Guest column: Loophole must be closed to stop footbridge over the Deschutes

June 10, 2017
Guest column: Loophole must be closed to stop footbridge over the Deschutes

The Bulletin has published several editorials on the pedestrian bridge proposed by the Bend Park & Recreation District across the wild and scenic Deschutes River.

I have friends and supporters on both sides of this issue, so I feel compelled to explain my opposition to the current legislation. My wife, Patty, and I have walked this trail many times and consider it one of those places that makes Bend so special. I’ve posted a video of our last trip on my Facebook page so you can see this beautiful area for yourself.

It is a unique stretch of river that is remarkably tranquil despite being so close to town, and has characteristics that make it an ideal habitat for a diverse collection of wildlife. The shallow depth, lazy flow and accessible approaches allow one of the few available crossings for deer and elk. As Bend grows, my hope is to preserve such distinct areas for future generations and for the wildlife that depend upon it. It is difficult to balance our desire for recreational opportunities with our need to preserve the natural beauty that makes Central Oregon a special place to live. But it is crucial to do so.

With that in mind, there is a host of sensitive environmental, wildlife and private property concerns that have been brought to our attention — suggesting this bridge proposal needs further vetting.

Our waterways, especially those that have been designated as “scenic,” need to be protected. The current law prohibits a pedestrian bridge on this mile strip of scenic waterway, and that is for good reason. After conducting a study, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department found that 81 percent favored stronger protections for the waterway, and the community advisory group was concerned about the pressure that growing demand for recreational activities and development is putting on the environment. Director Lisa Sumption said changing the rules to build a bridge would be “contrary to the purpose of the scenic waterway system.” ORPD was not the only state agency to reject a rules change for the proposal; the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rejected the proposal, raising concerns about the impact it would have on wildlife at the proposed site. Many in the local environmental community agree with the two agencies — including the Upper Deschutes Conservation Council, ONDA, Oregon Wild, and Central Oregon Landwatch.

My primary objective is to do what is best for Bend, but we must consider the implications of this decision for the rest of the state. Both state agencies have confirmed that the BPRD proposal violates the spirit of the State Scenic Waterways Act, an act that protects 22 of Oregon’s most-revered bodies of water, including Waldo Lake and the Rogue River.

In addition to the environmental and wildlife risks, there are concerns regarding BPRD’s actions toward private property owners. In order to circumvent the law and despite state agencies refusing to change the rule, BPRD threatened to confiscate private property, which would have allowed them to use a loophole. Our office received a letter from one of the private property owners, Stosh Thompson, who said he felt “immensely pressured” by BPRD’s threats and was worried that if he did not support their proposal, they might confiscate his property. Intimidation and pressuring citizens is not acceptable behavior for any public entity, nor should it be used to justify the proposed bridge.

Given the serious environmental, wildlife and private property concerns, I believe we need to do further vetting of this issue.

Until then, I believe it is necessary to close the loophole, of which BPRD is trying to take advantage to ensure that this special stretch of river is protected.

State Rep. Knute Buehler is a Republican representing Bend.

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