The possibility of a pedestrian bridge over the Deschutes south of town could still be alive, after HB 4029 died when the 2018 short Legislative session in Salem ended March 3.
The bill, which would have barred any person, public body or local service district from building a bridge on the Deschutes River within certain areas of the Deschutes River Scenic Waterway, passed the House and was forwarded to the Ways and Means Committee, where it ultimately died.
Bend Park and Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton said in an interview with KTVZ that the district's goal is to find a way to connect people to the trail area south of Bend, and that a bridge is needed, but he's open to a planning process that would bring in local agencies, including environmental groups.
Julie Brown, BPRD's communications and community relations manager, said a third-party facilitator will lead the effort to form a committee of individuals and groups that have expressed interest in participating in the process.
"We're still hoping for a balanced solution that doesn't involve weakening river protections or damaging wildlife habitat," Oregon Wild's Erik Fernandez told the Source. "We hope we can put the controversy of the bridge proposal behind us and find a trail connection that our entire community can be excited about."
Horton said if local stakeholders can find an alternative route, the district is open to ideas, according to KTVZ.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who sponsored a similar bill last year, and Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, have both opposed any type of bridge in the area of the Deschutes Scenic Waterway. However, both are leaving the legislature following this session. Buehler is running on the Republican ticket for governor, while Whisnant has decided not to seek re-election.
"We have only one Deschutes River, there is no backup river," Fernandez said. "We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the river and the wildlife that depend on it."
"We look forward to a local conversation about how to best balance environmental concerns, recreation access, and connectivity," Brown said. "This decision is too important to be taken from Central Oregon."