River Wars? Landowner posts "no trespassing" signs across Mills River

It's just like a public road, anybody can use it:

Ray Bryson complained that a private fishing club was limiting access to the river. Eddie Ingle delivered a written statement that said the rope across the river is a “form of harassment, may be dangerous to boaters and technically is a ‘gate.’”

Phil Brittain, a resident who lives at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Mills River and who spoke at the meeting, told CPP that he was “surprised and shocked” by the “no-trespassing” posting. “The river has always been seen to be held in common and has been looked after by the community,” he said.

This reminds me of the (mostly Republican) opposition to Obama's Waters of the U.S. rule expanding the Federal government's oversight of water resources. The main goal of that was to protect water quality by limiting pollution and runoff in areas previously not under control, which of course was viewed as a Big Government Grab (or whatever). But let's set that aside for a minute and look at some ethical issues that frequently come up in local government:

On Sept. 12, residents attended a Mills River Town Council meeting to protest a no-trespassing sign and rope spanning the North Mills River adjacent to North River Farms.

According to the meeting minutes, Katie Lamb complained of being bullied by Jason Davis, the owner and operator of North River Farms. Davis, whose wife, Chae Davis, is mayor of Mills River, also operates as a fishing-and-hunting outfitter.

The Town Council attempted to limit public comment about the run-ins to one speaker to represent all attendees, according to news media accounts and interviews with those who were present.

So you've got a local business owner who makes a living from charging people to boat and fish on the river, and then he tries to "take over" a public resource (the river) to bolster said business. And when citizens begin to complain, his wife, who also happens to be Mayor, tries to stifle those complaints. Even if she is a non-voting member of the Council, the Mayor is the prime agenda-setter in that body. Massive, irreconcilable conflict of interest.

Back to the River, and one of the main reasons WOTUS needed to be revised in the first place:

Generally, if a stream is “navigable,” the public has the right to float in it. However, navigability, Colburn said, means different things under different bodies of law and is ruled state by state. For example, navigability in Georgia is more restrictive than in North Carolina and is defined as streams that are capable of transporting boats loaded with freight.

North Carolina has adopted the “navigable in fact” test; that is, if a boater can float in the river, the river is navigable.

Colburn said the north and south branches of the Mills River and the headwaters of the Chattooga have the capacity to float a kayak; therefore, the water and its wildlife are held in the public trust of North Carolina. While land deeds may designate ownership of the land over which the river flows, it doesn’t apply to the water itself.

“When you bought the land, you did not get the right to use that water exclusively,” Colburn said. “There is essentially an easement through that stream. The river is not ownable, and the public has the right to … paddle,” such as from a public access point that does not cross private property.

At one time that Georgia "navigability" requirement was standard across the several states, and that's where the EPA's authority ended. Meaning, industry or farms could pollute the crap out of those smaller rivers and streams without worrying about Federal oversight. Now each state has a different definition, which made the EPA's job even more complicated. So in 2015 the EPA (under Obama) revised WOTUS to make regulation uniform (and effective).

Two months ago Trump's EPA repealed that new rule.

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