Warrenton - Residents around Smith Lake have come up with a plan to remove weeds that are choking out the picturesque body of water in Warrenton.

But they worry that their ambitious efforts to restore the lake's health might be jeopardized if Clatsop County sells the only point of access to the water open to the public.

More than 30 area residents turned out at a meeting of the Clatsop County commissioners earlier this month to urge the board not to put up for auction a small piece of county-owned property on the lakeshore used as a boat launch by paddlers and anglers.

The commissioners agreed to delay action on the Smith Lake parcel, setting it for discussion at a later meeting.

The tiny lot is critical to the plans of the Smith Lake Homeowners Association to save the lake from a growing weed problem, according to the group's Rowena Price.

The shallow, mile-long lake is filling up with underwater weeds likely introduced from someone dumping a fish aquarium into the water, while lily pads apparently planted by a well-meaning gardener have spread and now cover half the surface, she said.

"It's choking up something terrible," she said. "It can be brought back to a beautiful lake, but if we don't do something it will die."

To solve the weed problem, the association wants to buy a mechanical harvester that would chop up and bail the vegetation. The group is partnering with the Cullaby Lake Homeowners Association and residents of Sunset Lake, who want to use the harvester on those lakes as well. The Skipanon Watershed Council has also offered its support.

Much of the cost for the $80,000 machine could be covered by grant money from the Oregon State Marine Board. But that's contingent on the continued availability of the launch site. "If it doesn't remain in public hands, we will not be able to access the public money," Price said.

A neighbor of the property approached the county about possibly buying the lot, but later changed his mind, Price said. But county staff went ahead with their plans to add the parcel to a list of properties recommended for sale at public auction. The homeowners association learned about the proposal only shortly before the commissioner meeting, put out a "call to arms" to Smith Lake residents to attend, she said.

The launch site is an undeveloped, 0.78-acre lot located on Smith Lake Drive. The county gained ownership of the land from the homeowners association in 1980 through tax foreclosure, according to Sirpa Duoos, county property specialist.

County staff regularly review the list of county-owned land to categorize the properties and identify those that can be designated as surplus and sold, she said, and the Smith Lake parcel was included in the latest round. The county had been approached by the homeowners association last year about signing a license agreement with the county to operate the boat launch, but was apparently unable to secure liability insurance, she said.

The county Recreational Lands Planning Advisory Committee recommended that the county not retain the land for parks use, Duoos said.

People reportedly water-skied on Smith Lake in the past. While the weeds have made that impossible, many others continue to paddle canoes and kayaks on the lake, and to fish there.

Ron Haynes of the Clatsop County Bassmasters attended the commissioner meeting to urge the county not to sell the launch site property. He fishes at the lake several times a year - he's caught a seven-pound bass there, and says the lake also holds bluegill, crappy and other species. Otters, beaver and osprey also call the lake home, he said.

"I hate to see any public access around any lake in the state lost," he said.

The boat launch is currently nothing more than an unmarked, grass-covered lot. The county doesn't maintain the property, and aside from a neighbor who mows the grass, there's little work done there.

"It's primitive, and we want to leave it that way," Haynes said. "We don't want a park."

The homeowners association is wrapping up work with the Skipanon Watershed Council on the grant application, which is due in February 2006, Price said.

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