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Oswego Lake access is focus of group


The city has convened a work group to look at whether questions about access to Oswego Lake should be addressed as a committee works on a lengthy update of Lake Oswego's comprehensive plan.

The lake has long been off-limits to the general public. But questions have surfaced about whether those rules have legal roots.

Although citizens can use the city's seasonal swim park, only those who own property on the lake's edge and those with access to easements - essentially private swim areas, docks and beaches - can touch the water. That rule dates to the city's historical transformation from an iron town to a resort community.

The lake is controlled by the Lake Oswego Corporation. Oregon Iron and Steel deeded the property to Lake Corp. decades ago, when the body of water was much smaller. Today's 415-acre Oswego Lake is three times its original size, by some estimates.

About 690 lakeside property owners are active shareholders in the corporation. Another 11,000 to 12,000 city residents have access to the lake through deeded easements.

But Michael Blumm, a Lewis and Clark Law School professor who has taught natural resources and property law courses for more than three decades, recently sent a letter to city officials outlining his belief that the lake should be open to the public.

'I am quite convinced the public has a right to access Oswego Lake for recreational purposes, regardless of whether there is private ownership of the bed of the lake, and regardless of whether there is federal regulatory jurisdiction over the lake,' Blumm wrote. 'In fact, if the city of Lake Oswego were to deny the public acess to the lake from municipally owned lands, I believe that denial would violate the state's public trust doctrine.'

He also believes the public has a right to cross private uplands to access the lake, though if nothing else, Blumm wrote, citizens should have access from city-owned properties on the water.

He said the city should adopt a policy 'allowing public access to Oswego Lake in order to comply with state law' as well as statewide planning goals identified in the comprehensive plan. 'Otherwise, the city will risk lengthy and expensive litigation.'

The work group is made up of four volunteers from the comprehensive plan citizen advisory committee. They will analyze public input received so far on the lake access issue and consider whether it fits within the comprehensive plan update or would be part of a different process.

City neigborhood planner Sarah Selden stressed that the group's purpose is not to consider whether to provide lake access to the public, but instead to look at whether that question should be considered during work on the comprehensive plan.

Recommendations are expected at an upcoming meeting of the entire citizen advisory committee.

The work group will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at Lake Oswego City Hall, 380 A Ave.