PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oswego Lake is now defined as public after a Clackamas County judge’s ruling earlier this week, but that doesn’t mean the associated legal issues are over or that the public has a clear path to the water.
On Tuesday, the Clackamas County Circuit Court sided with petitioners and ruled the public had a right to access the lake from the City’s public parks. Now, the trial will enter its second phase where the court will examine whether the City of Lake Oswego’s park policies are too restrictive for access to the lake.
The public had been prohibited from entering Oswego Lake or launching boats from city-owned waterfront parks since a Lake Oswego ordinance was introduced in 2012. While the lake is now ruled public, it will likely be at least a few months before more swimmers and paddleboarders can enjoy its waters.
That’s because while the City said it does not take a position on Tuesday’s ruling, one of its regulations suggests there may not be any parks from which the public can hop in “safely,” Madison Thesing with Lake Oswego told KOIN 6 News.
According to Resolution 12-12, three key parks in Lake Oswego were not designed with lake access in mind. Because of that, entering the water from them would “create safety risks for the public and liability risks for the City,” officials said in the release.
Those parks are Millennium Plaza Park, Sundeleaf Plaza and the Headlee Walkway. Officials said the resolution will remain in effect — for now.
That could change in July, when the court considers whether that resolution is what City officials call “reasonable.”
According to a report from Corey Buchanan with the Portland Tribune, a KOIN 6 News partner, Lake Oswego officials have cited safety concerns and the prevention of invasive species entering the lake as reasons for the 2012 ordinance barring public access from city-owned parks (effectively banning all public use, given that other access points are on private land).
However, in its Tuesday ruling, the Clackamas County Circuit Court stated, “Oswego Lake’s partial title-navigability, the public trust status of is waters, and the specific circumstances here create a public right of access to the lake from the City’s public waterfront parks.”
Thesing declined to comment on what impact a yay or nay ruling would have on the city regulation governing the three parks. However, she confirmed that the litigation should not be considered an appeal of the court’s previous decision.
General Manager of the Lake Oswego Corporation, Jeff Ward, who speaks for the landowners along the lake, says his shareholders’ biggest concern is safety.
KOIN 6 News also talked to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Nadia Dahab, who said, “the Clackamas County judge’s ruling earlier this week acknowledges that our state’s natural resources can’t be privatized — they must be protected for public use. We still have a ways to go for phase 2 of the trial, though, so you can’t go in the lake today.”