PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Oregon Department of Lands reached an agreement with homeowners in Clackamas County to remove part of a private fence blocking access to the Willamette River.

The fence stirred up conversation among neighbors and river-users about what is considered private property on waterways.

The homeowners are now in the process of taking out the fence in all areas lower than the water’s highest point of the year to allow public access and safe passage for salmon.

The property owners – Jodie and Tim Polich – told KOIN 6 that people have frequently disrespected their property and built the fence after witnessing people defecating, lighting fireworks and letting their dogs off leash.

“We believe our actions regarding installation of this fence is both reasonable, legal and done properly. The State and the County have done nothing more than assert our fence is not legal or done properly. We respectfully disagree, ” property owner Jodie Polich said in an email.

The state said this fence in particular is illegal because it blocks access to the river and ordered the property owner’s to remove it.

The state considers the Willamette River a navigable river, meaning it belongs to all Oregonians.

According to the Department of State Lands, along navigable rivers, like the Willamette, the public has the right to use the river and its bank up to the ordinary high-water line. Though this line differs where you go, permanent vegetation usually stops at the high waterline. 

The ordinary high water line is defined by Oregon state law as a line on the bank made by the water when it rises to its highest level each year to the limit of upland vegetation. It is not the flood line. (Courtesy Oregon Department of State Lands) December 1, 2021.

Along that small strip of sandbank, the state says the public has the right to walk, picnic, fish, or pull a kayak up on. But the state stresses people must be respectful and legal because this butts right up to someone’s home.