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Meet the Heroes Suing to Free Oswego Lake, the Portland Area’s Forbidden Paradise
“People who live near these public access points are pushing to have them closed so they can have them to themselves and not have to deal with the riffraff.”
Todd Prager just wanted to swim. Instead, he's headed to the state Supreme Court.
Prager is one of the parties to a lawsuit seeking to overturn a Lake Oswego ordinance that bans using a public stairway in a public park to access a public lake. Prager fell in love with open-water swimming while living in San Francisco, where he swam in the Bay. When he moved to the Portland area, he started swimming in the Willamette River using a wetsuit. Then he noticed the 415-acre lake in the middle of the suburb where he lived and served on the planning commission: Oswego Lake, the jewel of Oregon's wealthiest city, Lake Oswego.
Despite the plaques onshore that say it's a "private" lake, it's not—Oswego Lake is a natural pool in the Tualatin River, dammed by a clever developer who surrounded the expanded pool with ostentatious homes. The people who live in those homes organized an HOA-type organization called the Lake Corporation, which owns the land under the public water and sends rent-a-cops to patrol the lake. Under a system referred to as "the status quo" in Oregon's wealthiest city, those who live on the shores can use the lake, as can people who buy properties with deeded easements to use the lake. To use their easement, they must pay a $5,000 fee to the Lake Corp. when they buy the property, plus an annual upkeep fee.
In April 2005, Oregon's attorney general issued an opinion saying the lake was public. A series of newspaper articles seven years later reignited interest in the public using it. Open-space activists and curious kayakers (including me) used the public parks around the lake to access it.
On April 3, 2012, Lake Oswego's city council, under pressure from the Lake Corp., voted to prohibit people from swimming or launching boats from three city parks along the lake. In response, Prager and local attorney filed suit against the city of Lake Oswego. The state's attorney general has supported the city in court. This means somewhere around 13,000 residents can access the lake through a complex system of easements, while the other 23,000 residents, and the rest of the state, are beached.
Prager has lost at the first two levels, but are now appealing to have the case heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. The city, according to its own calculations, has spent $238,167 defending its ban on using a public park to access a public lake. Prager, meanwhile, was ousted from Lake Oswego's planning commission and faced hostility from people in his community who are squatting on the lake and stand by "the status quo." We talked to Prager and law professor Michael Blumm of Lewis & Clark College, an advisor to the suit, about the future of Oswego Lake.
source: wweek.com / culture/2017/06/13/meet-the-men-working-to-secure-public-access-to-oswego-lake-the-portland-areas-stolen-forbidden-paradise/
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