The bill to kill a long-planned pedestrian bridge over the Deschutes River is back. Think of it as the Protect the Views of the Rich Act. Or the Make it Hard for People in Bend to Access the Deschutes National Forest Act.
Either way, the Legislature should do what it did in 2017 and let the bill die. Right now the new bill is in pre-bill stage — legislative concept 49.
The Bend Park & Recreation District has planned for years to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the river at the south end of town, just past Bend’s city limits. It would make it easier for people who live in the southwest of Bend to cross the river and get to trails in the Deschutes National Forest. And they could do so without driving their cars. It would be a green way to get to some of the prettiest trails around.
State Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, introduced the original bill in 2017. He did it in just about the most awful way imaginable. He didn’t tell the park district that he was going to do it. He listened to the people with the nice homes along the river. He took an existing bill and gutted it and stuffed it with his new bill to block the bridge. The bill glided through the House without much scrutiny or opportunity for the park district to get a word in. It died in the Senate after it got the scrutiny it needed.
The Deschutes River at the south end of Bend is beautiful. It has protections to keep it that way, namely the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act. That act seeks harmony between beauty and development. It does ban bridges, such as the one proposed by the park district. But the ban is not necessarily permanent. It provides for a year for property owners and the state to work out their differences and then a bridge could move ahead.
The new bill, in its LC 49 form, is an outright ban on a footbridge in this stretch of river. By passing this bill, legislators would have the dubious distinction of making themselves the great saviors of the riverside views of a few and purge easy access for many in Bend to Central Oregon’s beauty.