Bill Restricting Access to Washington's Rivers Introduced

Posted: 01/24/2015
By: Thomas O'Keefe

The legislative session is underway in Washington State and earlier this week we were shocked to learn of a bill that would severely limit access to the state's rivers and shorelines. Specifically the bill would prohibit water access on small parcels of public land unless the managing agency provides a formal river access site and parking lot.

While we support the development of river access sites and designated parking at sites where use levels justify the investment, many of the thousands of river access sites across the state that are used by paddlers and fishermen are informal access points at street ends, within bridge right-of-ways, and on small parcels of public land. Under the proposed legislation, public land managers would be required to post signage that public access to the water is prohibited on small parcels of public land without formal parking that currently provide access to our state's waterways. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor. If enacted, this would result in the loss of key access points we actively use on rivers like the Nooksack, Skykomish, Middle Fork Snoqualmie, Wind, Washougal, Wenatchee, Tilton, White Salmon and many others across the state.
This legislation is all the more surprising when one considers the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Washington State. A report on the Economic Impacts of Outdoor Recreation published earlier this month by Earth Economics for the State of Washington found a $21.6 billion economic impact from outdoor recreation supporting nearly 200,000 jobs, with over one third of that activity occurring along water. These benefits will not be realized if the public can't get to the water.
We encourage our members in Washington State to reach out to their state representatives to express their thoughts on this legislation (Find Your Legislator).
The bill was introduced by Representative Haler from Richland, WA and you can view the House State Government Committee Hearing video. The comments of Representative Haler, the sponsor of the bill, begin at the start of the hearing. He describes the motivation for this bill as being a conflict on the Yakima River where high use and inadequate parking at site used for river access is impacting an adjacent property owner. Following the testimony of Representative Haler, other bills are discussed; the committee returns to HB 1056 and the testimony in opposition from agencies including Deparment of Ecology, State Parks, and Department of Natural Resources begins at 30:28.
The full text of the bill is below:
AN ACT Relating to restricting the use of certain parcels of public land to access a public body of water; adding a new section to chapter 79.02 RCW; and prescribing penalties.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. A new section is added to chapter 79.025RCW to read as follows:
(1) If a parcel of public land is one-quarter of a square mile or less in size and is adjacent to a body of public water and the land is or can be used to access the body of public water, the governmental entity which has jurisdiction of the land must provide adequate public parking for persons utilizing the land to access the water.
(2) If adequate public parking is not provided, using the land to access the water for other than a governmental purpose is prohibited. If adequate public parking is not provided, the governmental entity which has jurisdiction of the land must post a warning sign for the public that clearly shows that using the land to access the water is prohibited and states the sanction for a violation of the prohibition.
(3) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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