For the past six years, canoers and kayakers have celebrated the onset of summer by taking to the Willamette River via the Chehalem Paddle Launch in Dundee.
It does not appear, however, that the paddle launch will enjoy a seventh season, at least not at its current location off of Eighth Street on a back channel of the river across from Ash Island. The property's owners recently informed the Chehalem Park and Recreation District that it would no longer grant them access during the summer months.
In letter dated March 6, property owner Tom Edwards notified the district that a March 2016 Oregon Supreme Court ruling in the case of Johnson v. Gibson regarding recreational immunity had led them to terminate all licenses and agreements for CPRD to use the paddle launch.
The termination was a topic of discussion at the March 23 board meeting and Superintendent Don Clements instructed CPRD attorney John Bridges to look over the matter and address Edwards' concerns.
At that meeting, parks supervisor Jim McMaster and board member Bart Rierson discussed efforts to find another location, informing the board that the Yamhill County Parks Department had deemed Rogers Landing to be inappropriate for the enterprise.
Rierson also discussed the various aspects of the traditional site that made it a perfect fit, namely that its location on a slow-moving back channel was ideal, and that there seemed to be a paucity of similar alternatives.
At the April 27 board meeting, Clements reported that Bridges has sent a letter to Tom and Kay Edwards explaining that as owners of the property, they were still protected by the state's recreational immunity law.
McMaster and Clements explained at the meeting what the ruling meant and noted that the Legislature was in the process of passing a new bill that would address the court ruling.
"Instead of suing the park district, they sued an employee who might have dug a hole," McMaster said. "The park district had to come to that person's defense and thus they were able to figure out a way to sue and get around the recreational immunity. That's it in a nutshell and why they're trying to close that loophole."
State Senate Bill 347 was passed unanimously April 11 and is currently under consideration by the House, which was scheduled to hold a public hearing and work session Tuesday.
Rierson and McMaster reported at the April 27 meeting that the property owners had expressed other concerns about the paddle launch that were still in play.
"I think it's more about his perception of the respect for the property than it is about the legal requirement," Rierson said.
McMaster added that in order to grant access to the paddle launch, the Edwards had to leave their gate to the property open 24 hours a day during the season. That became a problem as the area became a hangout for local teens and some vandalism had occurred.
"It wasn't in our realm because we always had people down there when we were operating," McMaster said. "I can see why he would close the gate because there were folks going down there who shouldn't have been doing things they shouldn't have done, but that wasn't on our watch."
Rierson also said at the April 27 meeting that Kay Edwards had expressed an openness to selling the property during a recent phone conversation, but that she was unwilling to name a price. Rierson said she referred to a previous offer by CPRD being too low, which Clements said was a misunderstanding stemming from an appraisal of the property the Edwards had commissioned.
Clements said that CPRD had only approved the appraisal, but didn't necessarily agree with the price.
This week, Clements reported that CPRD has received a response from the Edwards, who could not be reached for this story, and that their position had not changed, so he does not expect the paddle launch to re-open at its traditional location this season.
"We're going to figure out some way to keep it going," Clements said. "We do have property down on (Highway) 219. It's not the best in the world and we may have to alter it quite a bit. And we'll be checking with some other property owners as well."