You can’t use my river

Published 7:55 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The area of my responsibility included Bibb County and the Cahaba River, a very popular area for canoeing. From time to time, I would spot-check some of these landings and places of use for safety equipment and, of course, the livery operators were responsible for registering the boats and safety equipment.

Anytime you have this many people together, you have misunderstandings and sometimes just flat unreasonable people. Sometimes, the problems don’t have simple solutions, especially property owners and those who might trespass there on!The ongoing controversy between canoeist and landowners had gotten to a bad situation, and Sheriff Glenn Smitherman was asked to intervene and called for the state attorney general’s opinion. Spending lots of time trying to reason with some in question, I think it was an excellent suggestion. At one time, a property owner who owned the property on both sides of the stream decided he would put a fence across it! It got a little nasty and naturally resulted in a show of arms.

The following is a summary of the attorney general’s answers: “The people who own lands on both sides of the Little Cahaba River do not have complete control of the river…[and] cannot prevent canoers from using the river. Those using the river have no right…to land upon and use the banks at a place other than the public landing without the consent of the land owner…However in the case of peril or emergency, danger or necessity, a landing may be made upon the bank without the consent of the riparian [land bordered by the river] owner. “If the small islands in the river are actually ‘sandbars,’ which may form or disappear from time to time and are periodically inundated by the river, then they are a portion of the river-bed and part of public domain.”

About as clear as the Ol’ Cahaba itself! This may not seem like much of a problem unless you know some of those involved. If you do a lot of canoeing, you have experienced a situation like this. Frankly, I don’t understand someone not wanting canoes because they are the best friend a property owner would have. They don’t have motors to make noise or pollute the atmosphere.

But if you do encounter a situation like this and your sheriff or water cop don’t have all the answers, please don’t try to reason with some idiot with a loaded shotgun. To the landowner, don’t talk to someone with a gun in your hand unless you plan to take his life. There are lots of folks in prison for doing some stupid things. Talk to your attorney; life’s too short.