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OR - Tillamook county beach accesses impacted by court ruling

Tillamook County has closed two beach access points in Oceanside and Rockaway Beach’s City Council will consider temporarily closing all beach accesses in their city at their January council meeting.

he changes come following the Oregon Supreme Court’s declining to hear an appeal in a case this summer, effectively ending recreational immunity for governing bodies on trails accessing recreational sites.

In the case of Fields v Newport, a woman was injured in 2019 while walking to Agate Beach in Newport with her dog and a friend and sued the City of Newport for failing to maintain the bridge on which she fell. Initially, the city claimed recreational immunity shielded them from the suit as government agencies in Oregon cannot be sued for injuries sustained during recreation at their recreational sites.

However, an appeals court found that Fields had not been necessarily been recreating when using a trail to access the beach and said that a jury would have to determine whether the city had recreational immunity given the facts of the case.

Lawyers for Newport tried to appeal the ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court, but they declined to hear the case, leaving the lower court decision in force.

In response to the decision, CIS, the insurance agency that covers many state and city governments across the state, recommended changes to beach access policies in response to the ruling in their November newsletter. In the newsletter, CIS recommended governments close all improved and unimproved access trails before taking an inventory of those trails and formulating a plan for their use going forward.

Rockaway Beach City Manager Luke Shepard said that he plans to recommend that the city council follow that advice. Shepard plans to begin a discussion at the council’s December work session about adding signage closing the city’s beach access points and ask councilors to decide whether to proceed at their January meeting.

Shepard noted that the potential impacts in Rockaway Beach were widespread, given that most of its east-west streets dead end into the beach at their western end. The area between the end of the street and the beach could be considered an access in the new legal climate and most have not been upgraded or maintained by the city.

Even the city’s beach access point at the Wayside is expected to be closed as the inventory process takes place and city staff work with CIS to determine its status going forward. Shepard said that the city has already developed plans to improve the Wayside access point with the addition of stairs and a ramp and are currently waiting for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department approval. Shepard expects CIS to clear the upgraded access’s usage going forward.

Shepard also clarified that the city’s Big Tree Trailhead would not be impacted by the changes as the entire site was a recreational facility, with no access trail.

Tillamook’s county government has far fewer beach access trails than Rockaway Beach to manage and has only made the decision to close two trails in Oceanside.

According to Tillamook County Public Works Director Chris Laity the trail accessing Short Sand Beach and a trail lined with tires leading to the beach near the intersection of Cape Meares Loop Road and Highway 131, both of which have already been closed, are the only trails he foresees being impacted.

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