City says no to ban on vehicles in Chetco

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 29, 2013 09:04 pm

Brookings City councilors Monday vehemently came out against a proposal presented by the Chetco River Watershed Council to ban vehicular travel and play in the popular river, saying a ban, proposed by a “radical extremist group,” would do nothing to enhance the scenic river.

“This group has proven itself to be a group of environmental extremists and done nothing but cost property owners by the river money in litigation,” said Councilor Jake Pieper. “They have done nothing to better the river at all.

“Their sole purpose is to promote their extremist radical agenda, and does not adhere to any logic or reason,” he added. “They’re on par with the religious extremists who can’t be reasoned with. They won’t be happy until no one is using the river except the salmon that swim in it.”

No one from the watershed council was in attendance at the city council meeting. 

Watershed council president Tim Guzik said Tuesday he was baffled by the council’s attitude.

“It’s unfortunate they’re not supportive of something as important as protecting the wild and scenic Chetco,” he said. “We’re doing our very best to protect the river for future generations.”

The issue came to a head after the watershed council, which as of last May is no longer recognized or subsidized by the Curry County Watershed Council, asked the state Lands and Conservation Department to consider banning vehicular water play in the river. It cited pollution and protection of salmon habitat among its reasons for the proposal.

Scores of residents, however, disagreed, and came to a state Department of State Lands public hearing to express their disapproval. Most said they felt it was a land-grab, a violation of their rights and would lead to more restrictions on the Chetco.

The lands department is accepting comments until Thursday before it rules on the proposal.

The council was so opposed to the proposal, it opted not to send a letter, but instead pass a resolution that more strongly states their opinion.

“Because who’s proposing it, I’m adamantly opposed to it,” Pieper said. “I want to send a strong message that this doesn’t fly here. We don’t support them or their agenda.”

“I’d love to know what our ‘agenda’ is,” Guzik said. “I would love to understand why they’re supporting the idea that it’s OK to drive trucks up and down the river and through their water supply. I don’t understand. I’d love to know why they think that’s such a great idea.”

Some in the audience cited local documents from 1901 and others from the United Nations in their quest to keep the river open.

“I oppose closing the river,” said Lois Kirby of Brookings. “I have never used it; I probably never will use it. But I know what this is the beginning of.”

“It is a right protected by law,” said resident Dianna Blazo. “This crossing is not hurting anybody. Because a very, very few people on a council don’t like it, they want to stop it? I don’t think that’s right. It’s everyone’s river, and everyone’s right to use it.”

Councilor Brent Hodges agreed, saying he was opposed to it in every “way, shape and measure.”

“I oppose any added restrictions than it already has,” he said. “We have this rogue group acting on its own accord. I feel like we need to bend or compromise, and I don’t feel the least bit inclined to do so. I don’t see any good coming of this at all.”

“I don’t want to fight,” Guzik said. “It’s a small thing to ask people not to drive their trucks up and down this beautiful river and crush fish and little animals, dirty the water supply. I’m a dreamer, right?”