Battle brewing over use of rivers and streams

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – With much of America’s waterfront of small rivers and streams in private hands, there’s a battle brewing over who owns the river.

For years, property owners along some rivers and streams in Virginia have been chasing away canoers, kayakers and fishermen who float past their property, claiming the boaters are trespassing.

But state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) says the law is ambiguous on the issue and needs to be clarified.

“The waters of the Commonwealth belong to the Commonwealth and it’s not private property,” says Peterson. “I don’t need anyone’s permission to go down a navigable stream anymore than I do to drive down the street past their house.”

Peterson is sponsoring legislation to make that clear when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9. He expects opposition from waterfront property owners.

“I have a feeling a lot of people are going to come out and protest,” he says.

He expects to hear people claim that such legislation would make their houses and properties unlivable, with people fishing right off of the porches of the property owners.

But he counters that the law will make it clear the boaters must stay on the water and cannot step foot on the river bank.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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