Rogue navigability process far from simple

As a property owner and rafter/fisherman on the Rogue River for the past 40 years, I agree that the public should have access to the river, its banks and riverbed. Your editorial makes it seem so simple. In fact, it is not that simple.

The public already has the right to use the entire river to the ordinary high water mark as it flows today. This right was confirmed by a 1989 Jackson County court case (State of Oregon v. Klein, No. 88-07996-C). Law enforcement and the courts can, should and to my knowledge have been using this standard. The state's action will cloud this public right because the state may only take that portion of the river as it existed at statehood (February 4, 1859) plus whatever simple meandering changes have occurred since that time. This meandering process is called accretion.

That action, however, specifically states that the state may not take land on which the river now flows if that change was caused by a catastrophic act called avulsion. An example of such an avulsive act would be the 1964 flood. The river's path changed dramatically in many places since 1859 as a result of the many floods that have occurred since that time. The public may actually lose access they currently have under the court case if the state takes possession.

As a property owner on the Rogue for the past five years, the effect of the state's action on my ownership and over 60 other property owners along the river corridor under this proposal is alarming and complex. As for my specific property, I can prove that the river channel changed dramatically in 1964.

By way of a title search going back to an 1886 Patent Land Claim and the same cadastral maps the state is using, it is clear that the river flowed over 100 yards from its current position and that the bank of the river at that time was the legal property boundary for what now includes my property. Further research shows that in December of 1964, the river changed drastically to cut my property almost directly in half.

Maps show that my property lies one-third on the north bank of the river, one-third on the south bank, with the river flowing in the middle. Under the existing law, the state would not be able to claim title to the river as it flows across my property or the property of several of my neighbors. This is not unique to my lot but is the case on several pieces along the river. Some homeowners could actually lose their homes since in several instances their homes lie on land on which the river flowed in 1859. At the very least, title to these pieces becomes clouded and sale, refinancing or partitioning becomes difficult if not impossible.

I suspect your editorial is correct in that the state will take ownership to the extent the law will allow but what public good can be served by waiting 149 years to assert that right and ignore the fact that the river and the properties along the river have changed since statehood? It will also cause the state and those affected landowners to attempt to reach some compromise agreements as to the loss of property.

As a longtime negotiator of collective bargaining agreements I know it is a lot easier to reach successful compromises before rather than after the state takes action. Without those compromises, the state and those individual property owners would have to go to court to resolve conflicts.

I have rafted rivers all over the Western states, Canada and Alaska and can affirm the Rogue is one of the most beautiful and unique rivers anywhere. I sincerely believe everyone should have the right to access and enjoy this river.

The simple fact is that they do have that right. The state's action will cloud that right, cause conflicts and hard feeling much like Measure 37 and not improve any aspect of river use along the 89-mile segment under consideration except for the public. It could indeed have the opposite effect and restrict access to the public since the state will not be able lay claim to a continuous river in those places where floods have moved the streambed.

The solution, in my opinion, lies in calling a halt to this heavy-handed process, apply the standard determined in the 1989 court case to incidents of alleged trespass/access and work with landowners and river users to find solutions to any other problems that may arise. Maybe that is too simple.

Steve Straughan lives in Shady Cove.

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