BEND, OR – The Bend Park and Recreation Board (members Ted Schoenborn, Nathan Hovekamp, Craig Chenoweth, Ellen Grover, and Brady Fuller) has voted unanimously to oppose a bill that would strengthen environmental protections under the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act.

Bend conservationists have introduced a bill in the Oregon House of Representatives to strengthen environmental protections Upper Deschutes Scenic Waterway. Specifically, HB 2027-1 aims to elevate a longstanding prohibition on new bridges in undeveloped natural areas along the Deschutes. This bridge prohibition has existed for over 20 years, and is founded in the Upper Deschutes Comprehensive Management Plan: a collaborative state and federal effort to protect the Upper Deschutes. Biologists at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife expressly opposed abolishment of the bridge prohibition during a 2015 rulemaking process instituted by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, and at the request of the Bend Park and Recreation District. ODFW found that a significant increase in user traffic and dogs would adversely impact critical wintering ground for deer and elk. In addition, the affected area of the Deschutes contains wetlands and habitat for the federally threatened Oregon spotted frog.

At the heart of the issue is a BPRD agenda to construct a high-use bridge and trail in the Upper Deschutes Scenic Waterway. Conservationists and environmental groups have expressed concern that new bridges in undeveloped areas will create adverse environmental impacts through high user traffic. During the 2015 OPRD rulemaking and comment process, comments opposed to abolishing the bridge prohibition significantly outnumbered comments in favor. OPRD has also noted that development of BPRD’s proposed high-use bridge and trail would harm scenic waterway values. Just this month, prominent environmental group Oregon Wild submitted a letter to OPRD opposing abolishment of the Upper Deschutes bridge prohibition.

Although BPRD claims to be in favor of public process, Don Horton of BPRD has referred to the public as “ill-informed,” and public exclusion issues have complicated the recent “Upper Deschutes Advisory Group” or UDAG. At the outset of UDAG, Community Solutions of Central Oregon (a private company hired to execute UDAG) referred to interested—but uninvited— members of the public as “UDAG crashers.” BPRD emails also indicate that Don Horton of BPRD expressed frustration when informed that members of the public would be allowed to give input through UDAG.

BPRD’s conduct surrounding its proposed bridge and trail has also been questionable. BPRD has also acknowledged its intent to deprive unwilling riparian property owners of their land by using eminent domain. Further, BPRD has noted in internal emails that public bond funding for the proposed bridge will be exhausted by the time construction actually occurs Finally, BPRD has confirmed that it intends to invoke a non-conforming use provision of the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act to circumvent environmental law, should OPRD decline to abolish the Upper Deschutes Bridge Prohibition.