SUNRIVER, OR -- A local lawmaker is taking heat for his bill that would halt plans to build a bridge across the Deschutes River. State Representative Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) wants to prevent Bend's Park and Recreation Department from constructing a bridge to connect trails on the south side of Bend because the area is designated as a Scenic Waterway.
Whisnant has been accused of not listening to constituents who want the bridge. "I'm not against trails; I'm not against bridges. But, my bill just says 'you do not build a bridge in this Scenic Waterway part of the river.'" Whisnant tells KBND News, "I've had people call and say, 'Gene, I didn't know you were such a liberal!'" He adds, "In my office, we've probably had a hundred emails and phone calls, and it's probably 50/50 people hate me and people love me. But, I think it's something that needs to be discussed and that's why I introduced the bill."
He acknowledges it's a controversial idea, "I introduced the bill for people that were opposed to the bridge. Some of them, it's a 'not in your backyard' position, but they have a right to be heard, too. And, when I heard more and more about the Bend Park and Rec's plan to go around the Oregon Parks and Rec Department decision and build a bridge using possibly eminent domain, I said, 'I think we ought to have more venting of this bill and this action by the Bend Parks and Rec.'"
The bill has passed the House. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing in Salem on Wednesday, May 10 at 3 p.m. Whisnant encourages Central Oregonians to speak to the committee or send written comments.