SALEM — Oregon parks officials believe a portion of the Nehalem River qualifies as “scenic,” but potential restrictions have met with consternation from agriculture and local government representatives.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has completed a study concluding that 17.5 miles of the river meets the criteria for scenic designation, such as free-flowing water, outstanding views and recreational opportunities.
The report was submitted in June to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the agency and plans to vote on a “scenic” recommendation as early as November.
Restrictions meant to protect the natural features of scenic waterways can be problematic for landowners, particularly the requirement they notify state parks at least one year before making certain changes to their property within a quarter-mile of the river.
During that time, the landowner can negotiate with the agency over possible alternative plans or a sale of the property.
In the forested areas surrounding the Nehalem River, the primary concern would be delayed timber harvesting, which is already regulated under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, said Mary Anne Cooper, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
“It’s a complicated structure that’s on top of anything else,” she said.
Changes to roads or farm buildings may also be hindered by the requirement, Cooper said.
Though the rules for scenic rivers do make allowances for agriculture, the construction or modification of a structure — such as a pumphouse — must be compatible with the surrounding aesthetics, she said.
Whether a design is visually obtrusive is a highly subjective question that could prove problematic for landowners, she said.
The scenic designation is also meant to protect river flows, potentially interfering with the development or transfer of new water rights, Cooper said. The protections may have implications for water quality, which is already regulated under other laws for agriculture and forestry.
The Farm Bureau is also skeptical whether the 17.5 mile stretch actually meets the criteria for a scenic designation, since the landscape has long been managed, she said.
“There are homes and roads throughout the area, so it’s not really undisturbed,” she said.
Tillamook County’s Board of Commissioners has also come out against the scenic designation, arguing that restrictions on logging will violate the state government’s duty to generate revenues from property donated by the county.
“Although we support public uses on the Nehalem River … we cannot support the proposed designation as it fails to take into account the primacy of timber production on properties which the county deeded to the state decades ago,” according to a letter sent by the board.