SALEM — A bill in the Oregon Legislature that would ban a long-planned footbridge over a pristine river for hikers and bikers in the town of Bend is causing an uproar in the mountain town.
Some backers of the House bill, which was considered Wednesday at a public hearing before the Senate Committee On Environment and Natural Resources, say they want to protect wildlife. Opponents say many supporters are rich, have property along the river and don't want their views spoiled by hikers, bikers and leashed dogs.
Rob and Karon Kutz, among hundreds of people who wrote to the committee, said a multi-millionaire "doesn't want riffraff near his property."
But David Dobkin, who described himself as a research scientist, told the committee in an email that a bridge "will adversely impact critical ecological and wildlife values."
The Deschutes River near Bend cuts through lava flows, ponderosa forests and meadows in the shadow of the Cascade Range. Hiking and biking along it is a hugely popular activity for residents and visitors.
The bill in its current form looks nothing like the original. It originally was about financing water storage and water distribution. But, in a practice known as gut and stuff, an amendment revamped it, calling for the bridge ban and removing all references to water storage and distribution. The House passed the redone bill on a floor vote, sending it to the Senate.
The Bend Parks and Recreation District, which had been planning the footbridge for years to connect trail systems in Bend and nearby communities for residents and visitors, was shocked when Rep. Gene Whisnant, a Republican from the resort community of Sunriver 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Bend, introduced the amendment.
"The swift introduction and passage in the House was a surprise and should not preempt a public process in Bend," said Ted Schoenborn, chair of the Bend Park and Recreation District Board of Directors.
In a May 4 column, editor Erik Lukens of the Bulletin newspaper of Bend wrote: "Here's hoping this turkey gets carved up in the Senate."
Lukens said the situation shows "the capacity of politicians and influential supporters to work the system at the expense of the less wealthy and less well-connected."
Schoenborn said the amended bill "would mean the end of the Deschutes River Trail" that had been planned connecting Sunriver and a state park on Bend's north side.
He and other opponents of the bill said this was not a matter for the Legislature to decide.
For his part, Whisnant issued a statement on his Legislature web link on May 2, urging residents to voice their opinions.
"I have received a number of phone calls and emails from Oregonians on both sides of this issue," he said.