critics spar over public access to 415
View full sizeRandy L. Rasmussen/The OregonianLake Oswego property owners who
pay for recreational and boating access to the 415 acre lake at the heart of the
city say they are determined to keep the water off limits to outsiders. About
13,000 residents have access to the lake through a complex system of easements
and shareholder dues.
It a 415 acre lake used by at least 800 registered boaters. But officially,
Lake Oswego favorite playground is nonnavigable.
When Oregon gained statehood in 1859, the state assumed ownership of all land
underlying navigable waterways, setting up a conflict with property owners who
surround Oswego Lake and continue to claim it as their own. Landowners have
since enlarged the lake and strengthened their legal position. Sen. Mark
Hatfield won approval of federal legislation declaring the lake
1850: Albert A. Durham secures a donation land claim, builds a sawmill and
calls the site The land includes a small natural lake called Waluga by Native
Americans. Settlers later called it Sucker Lake, after fish inhabiting the
1872: A canal connects the Tualatin River to the lake, increasing water flow
and expanding the lake.
1912: The Ladd Estate Co. begins to convert some of the Oregon Iron Steel Co.
24,000 acres around the lake into residential properties.
1913: Oregon Iron Steel Co. successfully petitions to have the lake renamed
Oswego Lake to make it more appealing to waterfront homeowners.
Early 1920s: The Ladd Estate Co. takes over property owned by Oregon Iron
Steel after the company defaults on its loans.
1928: A canal dug in a marshy area near the lake creates Lakewood Bay.
1940: The Ladd Estate Co. becomes the Paul F. Murphy Co.
1942: The Lake Oswego Corporation., a private nonprofit organization of
lakefront property owners, is formed and takes over water rights and management
of the lake. Sen. Mark Hatfield proposes Senate bill 2315, which declares Oswego
Lake a nonnavigable waterway.
1976: The Water Resources Development Act of 1976 becomes law, which includes
2005: Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers writes a letter stating that all
navigable waterways should be open to the public, even if privately owned.
2011: The Lake Oswego Comprehensive Plan Citizen Advisory Committee forms a
subcommittee to examine whether the city should address lake access.
Source: Oswego Iron History (City of Lake Oswego)
This year, however, critics want to revisit the issue. They claim the state
sovereign rights to the water supersede federal and private designations and
that the city is obligated to pursue public access.
10 years or so, someone makes a challenge as to why everyone and anyone can
come into the lake, said Doug Thomas, board of directors president of the Lake
Oswego Corporation. The entity manages Oswego Lake through easement agreements
involving 694 lakefront and about 4,500 nearby homes, representing 12,000 to
the shareholders built this lake and have maintained it for over a hundred
years. Why would we let everyone have access to our backyards? Thomas asks.
The issue arose again last fall when Todd Prager, a Lake Oswego resident and
member of the city planning commission, suggested exploring a lake access policy
as part of an update to the city comprehensive plan. Prager said that because
the current plan is based on the premise the lake is private, he asked for
clarification from the Department of State Lands. He learned that the state
claims ownership of the lake original footprint and maintains there is
sufficient evidence the lake is navigable.
Furthermore, the state contends everyone has a right to use the lake as long
as they get to the water through public land or right of way.
just think the lake is such an important defining feature of the community
and Lake Oswego, said Prager, who works as an associate planner for the city of
Tigard. think the city should have a really clear policy on access, one way or
In Lake Oswego, those are fighting words.
In December, the comprehensive plan Citizen Advisory Committee approved
forming a subcommittee to examine whether the city should even consider
addressing lake access. The work group answer was no. The Lake Oswego Planning
Commission is scheduled to review the committee recommendation on Monday, but it
clear there is little appetite among city officials for exploring the issue.
think the status quo is preferable, said Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman. this
point, it hasn risen as a community issue to warrant a change.
Michael C. Blumm, a law professor at Lewis Clark Law School, said the water
in Oswego Lake is a state owned resource and the city hands off approach is a
dereliction of duty.
state law reads that public access is available for bodies of water that are
floatable by watercraft, Blumm said. really more of a duty than an option that
the city fight for its citizens and make the entire lake public.
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, a nonprofit legal support
organization, also contended in a Jan. 17 letter to the city that Lake Oswego is
violating state law by failing to seek public recreational access to the entire