September 11, 2007

Canal roads prove tricky topic

Redmond Spokesman editorial

There has been much to-do lately in Bend regarding public use of canal easement roads. The debate centers on the difference between private property rights and an “unspoken agreement” that these areas are for public use.

What does any of that have to do with Redmond?

Well, we have canals and we have canal roads and we have frustrated homeowners, irrigation district workers and walkers looking for a nice place to stroll. These issues will only increase with time, especially since the city has put trail development high on its list of master plans for the Redmond parks system.

The confusion – and contention – involved in the canal road debate seems to center on its apparent lack of use. Property owners adjacent to irrigation canals own the land up to the water but must leave the ‘roadway’ open for canal maintenance crews. Landowners cannot build on the easement area or use it in any way that blocks access for canal workers. Because of this restriction on their property many homeowners opt to ‘cut off’ their active property use area from the easement road by a fence or landscaping.

Since waterway maintenance is not an everyday thing – hopefully – this leaves inviting swaths of trail seemingly ‘abandoned’ for public use. And use them they do, walking dogs, hiking, and biking riding right through the backyard of their neighbors.

When asked why they knowingly trespass – most canal roads are posted – walkers usually use the excuse that ‘everyone does it’ and ‘it’s not hurting anyone’, much the same sentiments as expressed by the Deschutes County District Attorney, a regular trespasser on one Bend canal road according to recent news reports.

None of these rationalizations get past the fact that this is a private property matter and one that trespassers would likely view differently if folks were sauntering through their backyard.

Now, are the walkers hurting anything? Mostly not. They don’t typically peer in windows, vandalize or litter. They just walk, or pedal or otherwise enjoy being outside along a nice bubbling waterway. Does this lack of malice give them the right to use the canal roads?

No. Not without direct permission by the every landowner along the trail.

Does this make Redmond’s lofty goal of linked trail systems throughout the city – many on canal easements – a bad idea?

Not at all. But to avoid bickering like Bend is encountering Redmond would be wise to obtain agreements from all landowners, by purchase or contract, for use of their canal-side property – before the first gravel is laid and trailhead signs erected or any further ‘master plans’ are developed. And until that time Redmond residents should show respect for their neighbors and only tread where invited.

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