County cracks down on illegal activity near Clackamas River in preparation for summer congestion

PMG FILE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Clackamas County Marine Services Officer Abigail Hunt helps ensure floaters navigate safely on the popular Clackamas River route between Barton and Carver parks.Illegal parking fines around Barton and Carver parks increased from $40 to $80 as part of a plan that Clackamas County approved on July 1 to mitigate congestion and crowding during the summer season.

Clackamas River is a popular summer destination, often seeing flocks of hundreds, if not thousands of people coming to escape the heat by floating the river from Barton to Carver.

Increased patronage on those days results in heightened congestion and risk of car crashes, while inconveniencing neighboring residents with noise disturbances.

Intended to maximize public benefit while minimizing safety and liability risks, the county's new plan involves adding "No Parking" and "Congestion" signage near parks and increasing police presence.COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS COUNTY - Clackamas River floaters generally start at Barton Park and paddle down the river to Carver Park.

Clackamas County commissioners unanimously approved the plan, which is covered by current budgets, so it will be implemented at no additional cost. In the event that additional money becomes available to parks, transportation and sheriff departments, new options for dealing with summer congestion and related issues may become available.

The plan was first introduced to the board on June 1. Assistant County Counsel Scott Ciecko was among the representatives who presented to the board, describing the new policies as a way to efficiently utilize the county's limited resources to "holistically" address the overcrowding issue.PMG FILE PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - John and Joyce Nagy sort through trash at Carver Park during the Down the River Cleanup in 2018.

"There's not a way to keep people away from the parks. We can't just shut down the roads; people are going to find ways to access the parks or access the river," Ciecko said, adding that part of the problem is a significant lack of staffing available to monitor the areas.

County Board Chair Tootie Smith initially expressed skepticism about the proposed approach, referencing earlier incidents in which county staff inspected cars at Barton Park for alcohol.

"That's sweet — us take a holistic approach. We pass this and ka-bam, we're slapped upside the head," Smith said. "Our public is going to look at this, and they're going to say, 'Oh, they're at it again.'PMG FILE PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Posted rules, seen here at Carver Park, were in place before Clackamas County commissioners enacted rules allowing for alcohol searches in 2013.

"I don't disagree that parking is an issue," Smith added. "But if we have all these 'No Parking' signs up, they're probably going to go find some other place... and they're going to walk two miles. I mean, I've seen that."

Responding to a question from Smith about how parking signage would be enforced, Ciecko said it will be a policy decision between ordering tows for illegally parked vehicles or issuing them citations, and he recommended that tows only be ordered when the vehicle is obstructing traffic flow.

Ciecko said the new policies provide the county with a "legal defense" in the event that someone at the park gets hurt and files a lawsuit.

The defense, called discretionary immunity, states that under Oregon law, a public body such as a park cannot be held liable for claims of damages from employee negligence, so long as said negligence results from the way the public body chose to allocate their limited resources.

"It acknowledges the difficult decision that public bodies are in and that they do have limited resources," Ciecko said, adding that the defense has been affirmed in situations exactly like the decision they were asking the board to make through this plan.

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