Tackling difficult landowner rights cases

Oregonians In Action Education Center
An Oregon property rights non-profit

The right to private property is a fundamental right of American society. Property ownership encourages creativity, ingenuity, hard work, and productivity. Simply put, the right to private property is the single most fundamental driver of the American economy.

But protecting property rights isn’t always popular, and sometimes OIA takes on controversial issues. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Below are two examples.

In 2014, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 91, which legalized the use of private property for marijuana production, processing, and distribution.

After Meaure 91 passed, the OIA Board decided that we should defend the rights of property owners who wanted to take advantage of the new law, not because we agreed (or disagreed) with the measure, but because property owners had a new use they could make on their land, and we needed to defend that use.

Since that time, OIA has counseled many property owners on the new law, and what is allows and doesn’t allow. If a rule or local regulation goes too far, we stand ready to challenge that rule. Supporting property rights cannot mean that OIA can support only those uses that the public approves.

That wasn’t the only controversial issue for OIA this year. We were recently approached by a group of property owners who own land along the Willamette River. These owners have been losing land along the riverbank to erosion caused by summertime wakeboat activity on the river.

Wakeboats are large recreational boats designed to create large artificial waves. Unlike water skiing or jet skiing, the waves created by wakeboats are so large that riders can actually “wakesurf” behind the boat, without holding a rope.

Wakeboating is the new watersport for people, and from all accounts, it’s a lot of fun. But in the wrong stretch of a river, the wakes cause significant erosion to private property.

We know that riverfront owners should expect to gain or lose land as the river meanders and nature takes its course. But this group of property owners were losing land to erosion because of the constant pounding of the shore by these large wakeboat waves.

That’s why the Oregon State Marine Board, the state agency that regulates boating, already had rules that prohibited wakeboating in that section of the Willamette. But the rule was being ignored, so the property owners asked OIA to help.

We asked the legislature to introduce a bill to reinforce and put some teeth in the Marine Board rule. The result was a political firestorm. The boating community, spurred on by emails claiming that the property owners were attempting to stop all boating on the Willamette (which was certainly not true) demanded that the legislature halt any further work on the bill, and the bill died.

It was clear from the start that the number of boaters greatly outnumbered the property owners. For OIA and our friends in the legislature, this wasn’t a popular bill to stand on. But we did it anyway, because it was a property rights issue, and the right thing to do.

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