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June 22nd, 2005 The Nose | The Nose
 

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

     
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The Nose loves his steak medium rare, his steelhead drowned in butter. And he usually cares about Oregon's rivers only on the Fourth of July, when he floats an inner tube on the Clackamas with a sixer of Henry's balanced on his belly.

So when his colleagues started forwarding reader emails that gave them hell over a recent WW story about Senate Bill 1028 ("Surf, Turf Oppose River Rights Bill, June 8, 2005) and Oregonians' rights to use their rivers, he was all set to hit the delete button and go back to his steak knife.

Just what the Nose needs to wade into as he's blowing up the tube for his annual float: one more political pissing match in Salem, this one involving cattlemen arguing for their property rights and fishermen demanding access to their favorite rifles.

But the newsies got so damn obnoxious that he decided to take a look. And what he found was ugly: a bill that would open the door to private rivers in Oregon instead of the public access the state should already be enforcing for our waterways.

This bill would give away what it has no right to surrender-people's ability to swim and boat on Oregon's rivers. And SB 1028 says it so explicitly (recreational use "may be conditioned, limited, restricted or excluded'') that even the Nose's ex's divorce lawyer could figure it out.

Besides, what the bill claims to do-set up a process to resolve conflicts between river landowners and the rest of us-is completely unnecessary because history and common law already come down on the side of public use. In April, the state attorney general issued an opinion on this matter (wonks can go to http://www.doj.state.or.us/AGOffice/agopinions/OP_8281.pdf) which states quite clearly:

1) how state ownership of waterways is determined, and whether there are limits on what the state can do to restrict public use;

2) whether the public has rights on waterways if the beds are privately owned; and

3) what public activities are lawful if there's no ownership determination.

It's not surprising that one of the architects of this bill is Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, a Republican from John Day who has a well-earned reputation as the cattleman's best friend. Oregon's cow lobby-like its counterparts across the West-is forever conniving to expand control over the landscape, the interests of the wider public be damned.

But the other political heavyweight behind this idea is Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, a Portland Democrat whose power-to-the-people politics doesn't jibe with this ripoff, which one poster to WW's website called "a plain and simple land grab-in this case the grabbing of public land by private interests.''

Maybe it's all part of some intricate, backdoor tradeoff for votes on a civil-unions bill Brown favors? Maybe she really believes that a compromise all the interest groups hate means it's touched some sort of political sweet spot.

Doesn't matter. From the Nose's point of view, he simply wants to make sure Oregon's rivers stay just as public as its beaches so he can swig his Henry's in peace.

 
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