Oregon legislators are scheduled to meet again Tuesday to debate House Bill 4029. That’s the bill that would ban a proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Deschutes River just south of Bend.
Even by the Legislature’s standards, the bill is a feast of flaws. There’s the scheming by state Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, last session to sneak a bill through, legislators ducking accountability, the state marching in and usurping local control and much more. One of the craziest is that legislators may give Whisnant this bill as a retirement present. Why don’t they just all chip in and buy him a watch instead?
The bill also has a glaring contradiction — visible in its proposed amendments. Somebody apparently noticed the bill could mean the similar, existing bridge over the Deschutes River near Benham Falls could be unlawful if the bill passes.
The arguments against the proposed bridge near Bend have been about the environment. There’s been the Oscar-worthy performances of the NIMBYs who live near the bridge’s proposed location about the environmental impact of hiking and biking. They have their slice of heaven and want to keep everybody away. The conservation group Oregon Wild also made the argument that more people on the river trail could hurt wildlife.
But why then shouldn’t the Benham Falls bridge be ripped out?
It’s a bridge right smack in an official state scenic waterway — far from any town. It encourages more people to hike and bike the trails along the river. In fact, it’s a critical link in a trail system that supports even more hikers and bikers tromping along the river trail from Tumalo State Park to Sunriver.
Has that bridge ruined the Deschutes River Trail? No.
Has it meant the end for osprey, bald eagles, golden eagles, great horned owls, river otters, deer, elk, cougar, red tail hawks, beaver, snakes and even spotted frogs? No.
What the Benham Falls bridge does do is find a balance among recreation and appreciation of the outdoors and protecting a special place. That is the very idea behind the state’s scenic waterway law, finding a balance. The Benham Falls bridge doesn’t despoil the land and lay waste to wildlife. Neither will a similar bridge near Bend.