Letter: Riverbanks proposal faulty

Will the public’s rights be eroded by a state agency trying to expand its power along Louisiana riverbanks?

This is a serious concern as the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries considers significant changes in how it oversees the state’s 64 “natural and scenic” rivers.

The vagueness of the proposals invites regulatory abuse.

The first new rule would require a permit for anyone to use a “motor vehicle” or “wheeled or tracked vehicle” on these rivers.

As The Advocate has reported (“On the Comite River, a push to restore peacefulness,” Sept. 9, 2013), this proposal was developed in response to alleged littering and trespassing by ATV riders.

But its open-endedness causes concern for recreationists. For instance, “motor vehicle,” if applied literally, would restrict not just ATVs, but also benign uses such as motorboats — even small, quiet vessels used for fishing. And “wheeled or tracked vehicle” could even cover bicycles.

The permit requirement also is too broad because it wouldn’t apply just to visitors who might trespass or leave trash. It also would restrict adjacent landowners. Unless it is more narrowly drawn, it will infringe on their ability to enjoy the banks of rivers and streams that run through their property.

The second proposal would erase the geographical limit on the agency’s jurisdiction. A long-established LDWF rule references a “100 foot” stopping point for LDWF’s authority on either side of a river. But now, the agency wants to remove that limit.

Property owners in the vicinity of rivers are understandably concerned that this amounts to a power play. Will the agency start second-guessing routine projects on homeowners’ land if they live within shouting distance of a river? (Or even farther away, because there would be no official limit on how far the agency’s power would run?)

Pacific Legal Foundation, a national watchdog organization for property rights, recently asked LDWF to withdraw these ill-considered proposals, in a formal letter joined by a number of landowners, including the Louisiana Landowners Association.

With these proposed river regulation changes, the environmental benefits are speculative, but the threat to people’s rights is real. The bureaucrats should turn their canoe around and paddle back to the drawing board.

Scott Rosenow

attorney Pacific Legal Foundation

Sacramento, Calif.