House Bill Could Block Deschutes Bridge

Residents and official from Bend testified in Salem on Thursday morning on House Bill 4029, which would forever ban a proposed bridge over the Deschutes River.

Members from Bend Parks and Rec, Bend City Council and community members all spoke against the bill during Thursday’s hearing.

Bend’s Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell echoed concerns raised by the Bend Parks and Rec Department, saying the bill would “derail the local participation process,” and put a local decision in the hands of the state.

The proposed bridge has been hotly contested. Proponents believe connecting the Deschutes River Trail from Tumalo to Sunriver would provide necessary transportation and recreation benefits.

Opponents say it could disrupt the designated protected area along the south Deschutes and could lead to a slippery slope of lost protections for other scenic areas.

Some of those opponents also spoke on Thursday. Members from the Coalition for the Deschutes spoke in favor of the bill, saying there was a reason the state protected that stretch of waterway in the first place.

“This is not a local issue,” said Michael Eisele, of the Coalition for the Deschutes. “This is a wild and scenic river that serves all of Oregon citizens, all its visitors and the future generations and we benefit today from the foresight of those who put these rules in place, way before Bend Parks and Rec started planning their bridge.”

The bridge was part of a bond measure approved by Bend voters in 2012, and has been discussed since 2004, but the construction of the foot and bike bridge has been halted since it requires an exemption from the state.

A law passed in 1996 established that segment of the Deschutes River south of Bend as a scenic waterway and bans construction, like the bridge, in that area.

On Friday it will be decided wether or not the bill will move forward.

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