LAKE OSWEGO — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging wealthy landowners are unjustly keeping others from accessing Oswego Lake.
Judge Ancer Haggerty in Portland decided state court is a more appropriate venue for the case, writing that Oregon has a presumed ownership interest and “should have an opportunity to weigh in."
A lawyer for the plaintiffs told The Oregonian they plan to file a lawsuit in state court next week.
Two water sports enthusiasts, one a member of the Lake Oswego planning commission, filed the lawsuit in May, not long after the city of Lake Oswego approved rules prohibiting public access to the lake from city property. They wanted the court to declare the lake open to public recreation and to permanently stop the city from taking steps to discourage access, such as putting up signs or fences.
The suit contended that Oregon law grants public access to the lake regardless of who owns the underlying soil and requires the city to protect that right.
The legal argument boils down to whether the lake is navigable.
Under state law, if a waterway is navigable, it must be open to public recreation. The plaintiffs contend the lake was historically navigable, and cite a 1959 state attorney general opinion for support. But the issue became muddled in 1976, when then-U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield won approval of federal legislation declaring the lake non-navigable, even though hundreds of boats use it.
The city asked for the dismissal, saying the plaintiffs were “forum shopping" in legal documents and that the state must be involved in the case.
Mayor Jack Hoffman praised Haggerty’s decision.
“I have long said that our actions relating to the design, use and staffing of a park and the resulting park rules are not related to the legal status of Oswego Lake," Hoffman told the newspaper. “Our actions are consistent with our comprehensive plan and available resources."