Using vehicles to cross or play in the Chetco River will no longer be permitted, the state land board ruled earlier this month.
The board’s decision was reached after the Chetco River Watershed Council submitted a request last fall to the Department of State Lands asking it to adopt a rule restricting vehicles in the wetted channels of state-owned parts of the main stem of the river. It was part of a 14-page document addressing various rules about rivers throughout the state.
After a contentious standing-room only meeting last December in which citizens compared limiting play in the river to a “land grab” and a “taking of rights,” the Brookings City Council wrote a letter to the state board stating their opposition to the proposed rule.
The rule means no vehicles are allowed to cross any section of the Chetco River from the mouth to a point about 11 miles upriver where it joins the Wild and Scenic River designation area. It does not preclude access to river bars, such as Social Security and Redwood, or to Loeb Park, where people can park their vehicles on dry areas along the water’s edge.
People drive through and across the river for a variety of reasons, including to gain access to hunting areas and private property, to fish and play.
The watershed council is concerned about the “significant risk and harm vehicles do” in the river when four-wheel-drive trucks and other vehicles rev their engines and race through the water in play.
Watershed council member Yvonne Maitland has noted in previous watershed meetings that there is no public benefit to driving in the river, that such activity is dangerous and destructive, that spawning fish get crushed, and that Brookings and Harbor have water intakes in the Chetco — and Harbor has no water treatment facility.
Many citizens, some going back generations in the area, spoke against the regulation last year, saying the play had precedence and there was no science showing that river crossings and play harmed the river.
“We have been using these rivers for well over 150 years,” Robert Stumbo of Wolf Creek said at the time. “There have been loggers and farmers and miners. They have done no harm that has not been repaired by nature or repaired when we learned we were wrong.”
Most of those who wrote comments to the land board were in favor of limiting access into the wetted channel of the popular river, documents indicate. The proposal also had the support of the Oregon Coast Alliance, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, Wild Rivers Coast Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and others.
In its argument of support of the rule, the watershed council noted that the river is designated as an Essential Fish Habitat by the Department of State Lands and a core habitat for coho salmon restoration.
Maitland said she is pleased with the outcome.
“We’re very pleased,” she said. “Especially since the city came out against it.”
Councilor Brent Hodges was disappointed.
“My biggest problem with it, there’s already rules on the books to deal with this,” he said. “There’s just more and more of these regulations squeezing us. We’re slowly taking the fun out of everything.”
Hodges grew up swimming, fishing, camping and boating along the Chetco, and regularly takes his family upriver to do the same.
“I’m not so hillbilly that I want to see the land destroyed,” he said. “But pretty soon there’ll be no walking on the beach because you might step on a crab, no spending nights in the forest in case you bring something back out – it’s just chip, chip, chip away at stuff. It drives me nuts. I don’t see the purpose.”
Mayor Ron Hedenskog was the lone dissenter on the council in voting against the proposed ruling.
“I’m happy the way it turned out,” he said. “I believe there’s some merit in the law. I believed it was going to go into effect regardless of who was opposed to it. I know the council opposed the ruling, but I feel the majority of people were served by this.”