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Drinking and waterways simply are a bad mix

The board of commissioners of ... Clackamas County took an interesting and necessary step recently in unanimously approving rules to allow for visual inspections of personal items belonging to people entering public parks.

Other jurisdictions may want to consider similar steps to curtail unacceptable behavior in parks — and particularly on local rivers, lakes and streams.

Under the new Clackamas County rules, sheriff’s deputies and other designated individuals now have the authority to inspect coolers, bags and backpacks, and they will tell those in violation of park rules to leave. Ordinance amendments also prohibit glass on county park property unless otherwise allowed by permit.

The Clackamas commissioners took the action in response to repeated instances of public drunkenness, littering and lewd and dangerous behavior exhibited by some people who float down the Clackamas River. And although commissioners rushed their decision through at an emergency hearing, it was the correct call.

Bottom line: Increased recreational use of the Clackamas River resulted in real public safety issues and environmental concerns related to drinking, littering and trespassing. As reported recently by the Pamplin Media Group, river cleanup efforts during the past decade have removed an average of 5,700 pounds of garbage each year, with much of it being beer cans and bottles.

Sure, some people may be crying out: “They took away my right to have a beer in the park!” But rules were already on the books against alcohol in county parks. By entering public places such as courthouses, airports, concert halls and sporting arenas, you already should expect to be searched.

No one has the “right” to break such common sense rules. As Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard noted, we elect politicians to safeguard the public by “enacting laws that protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“People have a choice. If they don’t want their coolers and backpacks inspected, they can turn around and go elsewhere,” added Commissioner Paul Savas. “People have a right to enjoy the park safely.”

It’s the potential of people “going elsewhere” that should concern other jurisdictions in the metro area. Parts of the Tualatin River in the Hillsboro area, for example, as well as Hagg Lake near Gaston are popular places for both recreation and possible mischief. So are the Wilamette River in Lake Oswego, West Linn and Portland, parts of the Tualatin between Hillsboro and Lake Oswego/West Linn and even Oswego Lake. Area officials and others should consider whether stricter rules are needed to reduce the very real risks created when intoxicated people interact with large bodies of water.

Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson recently asked the city council to consider an ordinance relating to so-called party houses in the city. It’s not far-fetched to think of extending this type of thinking to cover our local waterways as well.




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