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Occupation on hold

Lake Corp. considers lowering lake, cordoning off Lakewood Bay to foil protestors
by: vern uyetake

Ugly winter weather has led organizers of a local Occupy event to postpone their protest of the Lake Oswego Corporation's long-held control of Oswego Lake.

Occupy Oswego Lake had been set for today. But in a message posted this week on the group's Facebook page, organizers said they're putting it off to a date they'll announce later.

'Hint: When it's sunny, expect us,' the Facebook page says.

An Occupy volunteer confirmed the Portland movement's organizers are involved with Occupy Oswego Lake, although the General Assembly, the de-facto decision-making body, doesn't appear to have voted on the issue.

The movement focused on Oswego Lake amid ongoing questions about the waterbody's historical exclusivity, part of a recent revival of the on-again, off-again debate over public versus private access to Oswego Lake.

'The Lake Oswego Corporation derives its power of control from a general, yet unnecessary, acceptance of the status quo,' Occupy organizers wrote. 'This case is indicative of a larger phenomenon in our society, where money is used to secure extralegal privileges for the few at the expense of the many. And, as is true in a larger sense, attempts from within the political system to correct this overreach of monied interests have thus far been unsuccessful in any real sense.

'We need only to defy the imaginary authority of the Lake Oswego Corporation by making a bit of a splash.'

Since Oregon became a state, all land under waterways capable of transporting people and goods has generally been considered state-owned. Regardless of ownership, in 2005, Oregon's attorney general said the public is allowed to use lakes and rivers so long as the water is deep and wide enough to boat in.

However, Oswego Lake, controlled by a corporation of lakefront property owners, is considered private. And members of the Lake Oswego City Council and the city's planning commission recently voiced support for keeping the 'status quo.'

In advance of the potential Occupy Oswego Lake event this week, lakefront property owners were preparing for a possible flood of Portland-area protestors.

'We do have options available to us which we may or may not choose to employ as events dictate,' Lake Oswego Corporation board president Doug Thomas wrote in a message to shareholders.

Possible tactics included lowering the lake by at least 4 feet, creating a soggy strip of land between public parks properties and the water. It's unclear how long it would take to lower the lake or how much water would be released into the Willamette River via Oswego Creek. When the lake was mostly drained for a major public works project in 2010-11, it took several weeks to remove an estimated 2 billion gallons of water, lowering the lake by 24 feet.

Another proposed Lake Corp. strategy involved blocking the passageway under the North Shore Road bridge 'to contain any activities in one area for water safety reasons,' Thomas wrote. That would corral protestors in Lakewood Bay, part of the 415-acre lake.

Thomas urged residents who haven't yet launched their boats for the season to keep them out of the lake 'until this activity, if any, has passed.'

'If they show up, these folks won't be looking for a quiet canoe ride. They will be looking for confrontation so they can make the news,' Thomas said. 'We will not provide that for them.'

Lakefront property owners and easement members have expressed concerns about the possible introduction of invasive species like quagga mussels.

Oregon requires aquatic invasive species prevention permits for most boats, although nonmotorized boats under 10 feet are exempt. Last year, employees working with a state program funded by the permit fees conducted boat inspections for invasive species at highway rest stops and boat ramps.

But the Lake Corp. sets stricter rules for boats entering Oswego Lake, requiring special cleaning at specific facilities: R and M Marine on Boones Ferry Road and Oswego Marine on Foothills Road, or, for wooden boats, Lake Oswego Boat Co. on Park Road. It also requires boaters to carry liability insurance.

Thomas told residents to call the Lake Corp. offices if they see suspicious people entering the water, and to call police about trespassers in backyards or on private docks.

Lake Oswego Police Capt. Dale Jorgensen, the department's public information officer, said he couldn't talk about whether police were doing anything specific to prepare for a big demonstration, whether on the lake or elsewhere in Lake Oswego. The police department does not have any boats in its fleet of patrol vehicles.

'I'm not going to go down that road because we're dealing with hypotheticals,' Jorgensen said, noting the department does have plans in place to deal with major emergencies such as natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

Local law professor Michael Blumm was among a few people recently calling for a reexamination of the lake's status. He contended the lake is a publicly owned resource being 'monopolized' by the Lake Oswego Corp. and its members. He said the state, if in control of the water, would be able to regulate access, such as preventing use of motorized boats to protect water quality and ensure people's safety.

This week, he said discussions focused on keeping people away from the water only serve to reinforce his view of why the Lake Corp. is not the lake's trustee under state law.

'They are determined to prevent public access,' Blumm said. 'They're taking away public access rights and making the public occupy lands that were once inundated that might or might not be owned by the Lake Corporation.'

In his opinion, Blumm said, 'That is a clear violation of state law.'