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June 8th, 2005 Adrian Chen | News Stories
 

SURF, TURF OPPOSE RIVERS BILL

     
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A bill in the Oregon Senate that tries to end long-running river disputes between landowners and recreational water users has gotten those rivals to agree on one thing-the measure stinks.

Both groups say the proposal backed by powerful Senate forces-Majority Leader Kate Brown (D-Portland) and Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day)-is so bad that they're working to sink the measure when the Senate votes on it next week.

But Brown says the unhappiness on both sides indicates "it's the perfect compromise.''

Here's how we got to this point.

The State Land Board currently decides river-use conflicts based on a complex set of "navigability'' rules. If the river is ruled navigable, then recreational users have a right to be on the river and on its banks. If the river is not considered navigable, then river users must ask landowner permission.

That process takes years and must be repeated each time a conflict arises.

Senate Bill 1028 aims to solve that problem by setting up a statewide plan for managing access to rivers.

Supporters say the new setup would lead to greater river access by promising to spell out the public's rights on any river where you can float a boat. Backers say that process also would help landowners by establishing new fees for boats, including kayaks and canoes, to pay for enforcement of recreational abuses.

But fishing, boating and river-rights groups are worried because the management plan's promise to spell out "time, manner, type and extent of recreational uses allowed" isn't defined. They fear that cattle farmers and landowners will try to fill in those blanks.

"Our concern is that the bill gives the public rights and then establishes a process for taking them away," said Phil Donovan, a lobbyist representing the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.

Cattle ranchers say the bill's assertion of public-access rights to the banks and riverbeds of nearly every river in the state violates their rights.

"This whole thing is an absolute private-property violation," said Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

Despite the complaints, the bill's backing by the majority and minority Senate leaders should give it a boost in Salem. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has not weighed in on the bill but says he supports a solution to the river disputes.

"This is a solution to a problem,'' Brown says. "And it's time for both sides to compromise and get to yes."

 
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