Oregon Department of State Lands has suspended a rulemaking process on waterway authorizations that had the North Coast up in arms.
Agency leaders say they need to take more time to consider public concerns on the proposed rules, which would have raised fees and required new registrations for dikes, wharfs, tide gates, riprap and other structures on state-owned submerged and submersible lands.
The suspension is indefinite, according to DSL.
Property owners in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties loudly protested the rule changes, which were originally proposed last fall and subsequently revised.
A public hearing on the revised rules set for Wednesday in Astoria has been cancelled.
"We believe we need more time to listen and respond to the public's issues and concerns relating to the waterway authorization process," said DSL Director Louise Solliday.
Local leaders and diking district members are breathing a sigh of relief. Many had pledged to protest the rules once again Wednesday.
"These were very controversial rules, and I pleaded with the governor's office and others to suspend the effort to put them in place," said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. "I'm glad to say my opinion and that of many others held."
At statehood in 1859, Oregon gained ownership of all land underlying navigable and tidally influenced waters. Upland property owners need authorization from DSL to place a structure on this state-owned land.
The department issues authorizations for such uses as docks, boat houses, marinas and recreational cabins on state-owned "submerged and submersible" land, defined by DSL as land underlying navigable or tidally influenced waterways. The last major changes to the rules governing these authorizations occurred in the late 1990s.
Julie Curtis, communications director for DSL, said the new administrative rules were designed to "clean up some of the language related to diking and riprap"?in addition to raising fees on smaller structures from $25 to $50 a year.
"It's still a small amount, but I?think there was just a lot of misconception about what fees applied to what," she said.
Curtis said North Coast residents were particularly upset because there are more dike structures here that are not currently subject to state authorization and fees.
"They should have been, but many are in locations where you can't see them," said Curtis. "We didn't know about them. There was a lot of concern that we were going to assess a fee they never paid but should have been paying."
Warrenton City Commissioner Mark Kujala said Warrenton has more than eight miles of dikes that would be subject to the new rules.
"It was pretty neat to hear the news," he said. "People knew this was bad timing and something DSL shouldn't be engaged in right now, and they're very relieved to hear they're suspending the push to adopt these revised rules."
Kujala said there were ownership disputes in some diking districts, and they were asking DSL?to hold up its rulemaking until ownership issues were settled.
"They've got deeds that extend into the middle of the river, underneath a dike itself," he said. "There were some real questions about how it was going to be enforced and why you would push something through before you knew the consequences and ramifications of it. It seemed to be a rushed job."
Clatsop County Commissioner Dirk Rohne, a member of a diking district in Brownsmead, said the news of the suspension is "very encouraging."
His diking district has been working with the U.S.?Army Corps of Engineers since the 1930s to maintain its structures, Rohne said, and they've never had a problem with the state until this year. He doesn't believe DSL?should be charging fees for dikes built on private property.
"I?don't believe they have any legitimacy, and I think they decided to stop before it became more embarrassing," said Rohne. "We're very grateful to DSL that they reconsidered."