A 12-year dispute involving two state agencies and riverfront property owners on the Chetco River about five miles east of Brookings has been settled with benefits for both parties as well as the public.
Property owners Bill and Marie Hansen, the Division of State Lands and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently approved the agreement. "The dispute illustrates the complexity of water law in the West," said John Lilly, DSL assistant director. "But we have a solution that provides assurance of access for the public and assurance of a specific boundary for the property owner," Lilly added.
The settlement came from a mediation process facilitated by a retired Jackson County judge.
The long-term disagreement centered around use of an easement granted to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for fishing and boat launching and the location of the boundary marking public ownership on the stretch of the river fronting the privately owned property. The owners had placed rocks and a fence where they believed the line of ordinary high water existed. This prevented people from accessing parts of the riverbank for boat launching during fishing seasons, Lilly said.
The dispute was complicated by river bar scalping conducted by a previous owner of the riverfront property that may have altered the river course and line of ordinary high water, Lilly said.
The state agencies contended that the line of ordinary high water was much higher and permitted public access to and use of the riverbank area known as Willow Bar. In Oregon, the public has the right to use the bed and banks of navigable rivers below the line of ordinary high water. The Chetco was determined to be navigable through a court case in 1994.
Both parties accepted a compromise property boundary line. That line allows access to the riverbank. But access will be limited to people who register for a gate key. Registration and keys will be available beginning Monday, October 21, from
"All persons who request a key for fishing access will receive a key for vehicle access to Willow Bar," said Steven Denney, ODFW Southwest Region Manager.
Holders of keys must agree to abide by a list of conditions. They include no parking of unattended vehicles or boat trailers on Willow Bar and a requirement that the gate to the easement be locked at all times. Use of the area is limited to fishing and boat launching from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset during the legal fishing season only, Denney said.
Current angling rules allow fishing for chinook and adipose fin-clipped steelhead Jan. 1 through March 31 and May 25 through Dec. 31. The fall chinook season peaks in October and November. Winter steelhead angling peaks in January.
Unattended vehicles must be parked at the easement parking lot adjacent to the county road. No camping or overnight parking will be allowed at this parking area. DSL and ODFW will remove the rocks and fence. The agencies will post signs marking the boundary of public property by Friday, Oct. 18.
For more information:
Steven Denney (541) 440-3353