Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Private property rights, safety issues raised

The Lake Oswego Corporation has signed on to intervene in a lawsuit that could decide whether the general public is allowed to use Oswego Lake.

A Clackamas County Circuit Court judge recently approved a request from Lake Corp. officials to side with the city of Lake Oswego and the state as they defend themselves against a lawsuit filed last fall by Mark Kramer and Todd Prager.

Kramer, of Portland, and Prager, of Lake Oswego, contend that city rules barring access to the lake violate the public’s right to recreate on the water and that the state has an obligation to protect the public’s use of navigable waterways, including Oswego Lake.

In a related matter, attorneys for Kramer and Prager filed for summary judgment on the public use aspect of their case on Monday.

Kramer and Prager want the court to settle questions over ownership and public access to the lake, long maintained as a private water body by a corporation of property owners.

According to the Lake Corp. filing, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would undermine its property rights and interfere with its ability to enforce its safety and other regulations on the water.

Lake Corp. calls Oswego Lake and the attached Lakewood Bay “reservoirs” created from a smaller body of water. According to the motion: “Originally beneath what is now the lake was a smaller body of water known as ‘Sucker Lake.’” Oregon Iron and Steel owned the surrounding property and created what is today known as Oswego Lake by “artificially inundating its private property.” The company then created Lakewood Bay separately through a similar process, inundating property it owned on the east side of Sucker Lake. It also built a canal.

Oregon Iron and Steel transferred ownership to Lake Corp., which contends it still holds the title to “most of the bed and the banks” of the bay and the lake.

Its 625 shareholders pay dues to support a full-time staff responsible for building and maintaining docks and boat ramps, managing water quality and hiring patrol boats to enforce its rules. The organization also “controls the dams used to store water in the Lake to generate electrical power and for irrigation and other purposes,” court documents state.

Kramer and Prager argue the lake is public because Oregon has sovereign rights to land underlying bodies of water. Regardless of ownership of the lakebed, past attorney general opinions have said the public has a right to use lakes and rivers so long as the water is deep and wide enough to boat in.

The state hasn’t enforced public ownership or access to the lake, according Kramer and Prager’s original complaint.

“As a consequence, full access to the (lake) is open to only those relatively few privileged citizens who are Lake Corporation shareholders and easement holders and cannot be fully enjoyed by the larger population,” their lawsuit states.

The Lake Oswego City Council enacted rules prohibiting anyone from accessing the lake from city-owned parks last year. At the time, council members cited a lack of facilities constructed for water access, a lack of resources to build such facilities or supervised lake-related activities, a lack of facilities and resources to check boats for invasive species and potential liability risks.

The decision came on the heels of planning commission discussions about city recreation policies and followed threats of an Occupy-type demonstration on the water.

While most of the land surrounding the city’s largest water feature is privately owned by the Lake Oswego Corporation, Lake Oswego owns some properties on the lake’s border, including Sundeleaf Plaza, Headlee Walkway and Millennium Plaza Park, where steps lead into the water.

The case is scheduled for trial later this year.

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