The state of Oregon owns all submersible lands existing in 1859 by virtue of the Oregon Constitution and state statute. It also owns the water in any lake or river and provides access under the public use doctrine.
The concrete dam raised the level of Oswego Lake by 20 feet when it was built in the 1920s and the Lake Corporation owns the bed surrounding the old Sucker Lake. The lake is considered navigable both under state law and under a 1975 Attorney General's opinion. The legislative history in the federal legislation in 1976 that defined Oswego Lake as 'non-navigable' states that the legislation only applies to the lake's status for federal purposes and not to the rights of the state of Oregon.
The Lake Corporation has been a very good steward of the lake and has improved its water quality and recently, along with FEMA, helped fund improvements to the dam to reduce the risk of flooding. The Lake Corporation also currently maintains safety on the lake.
In my view, the Lake Corporation risks an expensive and possibly adverse legal ruling if public access to the lake is denied. The actions it has suggested to stop the Occupy Lake Oswego could bring this legal issue to a head soon. Here is my proposal.
The city is one of the largest shareholders of the Lake Corporation as it owns both parks, single family lots and the public swim park along the shoreline. It would be better for the city, as a shareholder, to negotiate with the Lake Corporation for limited public access to the lake and to manage the number of power boats on the lake by permit using its police power. Since there is no boat ramp on the lake there is a little risk of outside power boats being launched in the lake without a permit.
The city could also purchase some canoe and kayaks that would be kept on racks on the land it owns near the Lake Corp offices. The city could subcontract to the Lake Corporation to manage the canoe and kayak rentals just as it contracts with Lake Oswego Rowing to operate the water sports center in Rohr Park. The canoes and kayaks would be rented out to the public for a modest hourly fee. I believe this would resolve the public access issue for most citizens. A number of easements around the lake already have a limited number of boats and canoes that can access the lake.
Sometimes it's more important to reach a compromise solution than to be 'right.' My proposal for limited public access is modest but could defuse an issue that threatens both the livability and civic discourse in our community.
Rob Le Chevallier, Lake Oswego, is chair of Keep Lake Oswego Great.