BEND, OR -- A controversial bill that would prevent the Bend Parks and Recreation District from building a bridge over the scenic Deschutes River passed the State House, last month. But, there has been little movement in the Senate. Supporters say the bridge is needed to connect the two sides of the Deschutes River Trail on the south side of Bend.
Bend Parks and Rec Executive Director Don Horton testified against the bill in Salem recently; and now he waits. "The Senate has already had their public hearing, so now it's in the committee's hands. The committee will consider the legislation, or amend the legislation, or they could not take it up at all. So, it's completely in the hands of the committee at this point."
Horton says the bridge is necessary to achieve goals identified by the community, which involve connecting existing trails around Bend. "There's been some who argue that we already have the Haul Road Trail, and people can get from the Deschutes River Trail to the Haul Road and eventually work your way back to the Deschutes River. But, that's about a 12-mile distance that we think is unnecessary. We really believe we ought to be able to connect southeast Bend to the Deschutes River Trail by way of this bridge."
Even if HB 2027 is defeated or amended, Horton says the proposed bridge still isn't a guarantee. "All that our board is asking for is allow the public process to work out. Even if this bill does not go through, it doesn't mean the public process is over with. We still have to go through State Parks; we still have to go through the federal process, which is called NEPA. And the NEPA analysis will really look at the environmental consequences of putting a bridge in. Through the NEPA process, we still may not be allowed to do the bridge. So, we're just asking for this process to be able to unfold." And, if the proposal is approved at all levels, Horton says construction will take a while. "I think the planning process will take at least five years. And then after that's over with, designing the bridge and installing it would take at least another year, so we're talking six or seven years, at the earliest."
Bend State Senator Tim Knopp has said he may introduce an amendment that would allow a bridge at Forest Service land, under several conditions. The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will hold a work session on HB 2027 Thursday, May 25.