The controversial plan to build a bridge across the Deschutes River south of Bend is no longer in the Bend Park & Recreation District’s plans, at least for the foreseeable future.
On Tuesday, the park is expected to sign a resolution postponing the bridge project until the district and the various stakeholders that have weighed in on the project “share a vision on how to proceed.”
Don Horton, executive director of the park district, said the district plans to remove the project from its list of capital improvement projects over the next five years, along with its 10-year list of projects that will be funded by system development charges, as a show of good faith that it won’t move forward on the contentious project without widespread support from the community.
While the decision doesn’t erase the possibility of building a bridge or something similar near the Meadow Day Use Area at some point, Horton said it is no longer in the district’s short- or medium-term plans.
“We can assume we’re at least a decade away from taking up the project again,” he said.
Instead, the district intends to look more broadly at bank and trail improvements on the Deschutes River, focusing on better identifying where the district can prevent river banks from being trampled.
For the time being, the resolution puts to rest the yearslong effort to build a bridge across the Deschutes River several miles southwest of Bend. The project first got moving in 2012, when Bend voters approved a bond designed to fund several large park district projects, including a bridge.
The bridge was designed to link together trails near that portion of the river, helping bikers and hikers on the east bank of the river use trails on the other bank more easily. However, critics of the bridge have said it will displace wildlife and ruin nearby homeowners’ quality of life.
After two bills designed to block the bridge were introduced to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2017 and 2018, the park board brought in a third-party facilitator to commission a report on the issues plaguing the project.
The report, which was presented during a park district meeting in December, revealed deep divides between the various sides in the debate and noted that years of work may be needed to bridge the divide.
Horton said the district concluded that the consensus-building process the facilitator recommended would have taken a lot of time and effort to complete, with no guarantee of consensus at the end of the process.
“Even if it would have gone forward, we were probably five to seven years away from seeing anything happen,” Horton said.
Instead, the money and staff time that would have gone toward the bridge will be directed toward other park district endeavors. The district plans to work with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to identify and protect sensitive riparian areas along the banks of the Deschutes River near the southern edge of Bend, by where the bridge would have been built. Horton said the work is an extension of a grant-funded project to fence and add vegetation along the river near the Bill Healy Bridge in order to keep visitors from trampling vulnerable vegetation.
At a prior park district meeting, the board expressed interest in zooming out from the bridge project to look more generally at how the district can better connect its trails to other trails and facilities. Horton said the district will focus its attention on several such projects and will work with state, local and federal agencies to find opportunities to link up trails.
As for the bridge, Horton didn’t provide a timeline on when the project could resurface in the future.
“I think it’s way too early,” Horton said.
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