A group of more than 50 people descended upon Brookings City Hall Wednesday evening to express outrage and opposition to a group’s proposal that would ban vehicles from crossing or driving in the Chetco River.
Some likened it to a land grab or a taking of rights.
“I’ve watched regulations get so strict on everything — fishing, hunting,” Richard Blazo said. “Bit by bit, they’re taking away our rights. Piece by piece, they’re taking away our rights. If we don’t do anything, we’ll be like the Soviet Union.
“I’m so disappointed, I’m ready to give up everything,” he said to cries of “That’s what they want!” “But I’m willing to fight.”
The proposal does not impact citizens’ access to popular river bars, such as Social Security, Redwood or Loeb Park, where they can park their vehicles on dry areas along the water.
The proposal focuses strictly on vehicles entering the water.
People drive through and across the river for a variety of reasons: to gain access to hunting areas, to fish and — the reason it brought people from as far away as Grants Pass that night — to play.
That playing in the river caught the attention of the Chetco Watershed Council, which submitted a request last fall to the Department of State Lands asking it to consider stricter regulations regarding vehicles in the river.
The group, of which about five were in the audience to defend themselves against comments ranging from ineptitude to birthplaces, is concerned about the “significant risk and harm vehicles do” in the pristine waters.
Watershed Council member Yvonne Maitland, who could hardly get a word in during the contentious meeting, noted in previous watershed meetings that there is no public benefit to driving in the river, that such activity is dangerous and destructive, spawning fish get crushed and that Brookings and Harbor have water intakes in the Chetco — and Harbor has no water treatment facility.
Interjections ran the gamut, and included questions of people’s birthplace, whether they were Native American, if America was becoming like the (former) Soviet Union, that some environmentalists are on the FBI’s most-wanted list; even al-Queda was mentioned.
Mayor Ron Hedenskog, who sits on the state’s Chetco River Rulemaking Advisory Committee, addressed the crowd, saying the proposal’s wording had been changed to better reflect what he thought “would satisfy the best part of this group.”
However, everyone who spoke was against the proposed regulation, citing the trampling of rights, precedence, land takings and bogus science. Many said if current laws were enforced there wouldn’t be an issue. Some multi-generational families said they’d played in the river as kids, and it’s just as pristine today as it was then.
And many finished their comments to rounds of applause and whistles.
“This is a land grab if there ever was one,” said Nick Dordon of Grants Pass. “It’s not just the Chetco. It’s all around the United States. This is totally unacceptable. I see it as a taking, a grabbing of the land.”
“I believe in leaving the land free and open to everyone,” said Dianna Blazo of Brookings. “The environmentalists think that if someone burps in the woods, it’s a detriment to our country. A few people are so twisted in their thoughts they’re trying to block the rest of us folks. Enough is enough. No more government.”
Doug Hodges of Brookings agreed, “Enough laws already. I was one of those kids in the river with my Suzuki (four-wheel-drive vehicle). I don’t anymore; I’m an adult. I don’t feel like it. But if I do feel the need to do it, I don’t want any of you telling me I can’t.”
Cam Lynn of Brookings, among others, voiced his opposition citing increasing rules and regulations, usually imposed by environmentalists using science to keep people out of the wilds.
“Awhile back, mining was bad for the river,” said Cam Lynn of Brookings. “Then it was kayaking; drift boating was bad for the river. Today it’s, ‘driving is bad for the river.’ Next it’ll be swimmers. You fishermen think you can’t be touched? Watch out.”
Ernie Hinze of Brookings held up a piece of paper, saying it represented American’s rights 50 years ago.
“And this is our rights 25 years ago,” he said, ripping it in half. “And this is 10 years ago (rip). And this is now,” he said with open, empty hands.
“Unfortunately, we have some of the same issues in our community,” said Robert Stumbo of Wolf Creek. “I need to impress upon you: Educate yourself on the law. What they’re doing is illegal.”
He said there is no science to show oil and other chemicals washed off vehicles harm the river any more than that of chemicals that wash in off roads, and that the State Fish and Game Department has never investigated industry along the river because fish survivability has never been impacted.
“We have been using these rivers for well over 150 years,” Stumbo said. “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.”
Bob Pieper of Brookings lambasted watershed council members, saying some are “anti-everything,” that people get “talked down” at their meetings and that one, who lives in Smith River, shouldn’t even be on the council.
“An OSP (state police) officer at Loeb (park) said he saw at least 30 vehicles a day cross the river,” said Donald Berggren, a watershed council member. “That’s too much. He said, ‘No time is the right time to cross the river.’ You shake your heads, but it happens.”
Agatha Conrad asked the crowd what the objective of the hearing was and was shouted down with cries of “We’re tired of you telling us what to do on the river,” and “You’re taking our rights.”
“This is all because of the environmentalists,” said Ed McDaniel. “We’ve watched them stop logging, watched people lose jobs. Yesterday, salmon fishing stopped. Today, it’s the river. Tomorrow we’ll have to have all our guns registered. This is where we need to draw the line.”