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Tenmile & North Tenmile Lakes FAQs
Big Creek Arm of Tenmile Lake, photo Chris Castelli
Over the past 75 years the ownership and management of submerged and submersible land underlying Tenmile and North Tenmile Lakes has been discussed and disputed. This short question/answer report attempts to explain and clarify a number of lingering and wide ranging issues.

.: Questions & Answers
Q. What is the origin of the controversy over ownership of the submerged and submersible land underlying Tenmile Lakes?

A. The Tenmile Lakes were originally surveyed by the U.S. Government in 1880 but a major error was made. The lakes and surrounding lands were "platted" (divided into sections). The lakeshore SHOULD have been "meandered" (a survey line is run around the lake more or less at the ordinary high-water line) but was not. The surveyor reasoned, in error, that the lakes could be drained and turned into swampland. As a result, the federal government granted patents (deeds) to people without reserving the lake shore and bed for the State of Oregon as a navigable waterway. Ever since that time, lakefront owners have disputed the state’s claim, despite a 1924 federal surveyor’s report exposing the original error. In fact, the federal government had no right to issue title to the shoreline and lakebed below ordinary high-water, because it was to have reserved the land for the state.
Mr. Joseph A. Ganong, U. S. Cadastral Engineer, summarized in his 1924 survey report:
"Evidently Deputy Wright established these witness corners as meander corners, it being his intention to meander both lakes, then upon reflection and as an afterthought, decided to try and "get by" without running the meander lines as it is a job most anyone would try to evade, especially upon a mileage basis, therefore when he prepared his field notes he did not feel like omitting these corners so described them as witness corners instead of meander corners."
Mr. Ganong concluded his report by stating:
"No old residents or settlers were found who could give any testimony as to the existence of the lakes in 1859 when Oregon was admitted to the Union, however, the physical evidence of their condition today is such that any person would readily presuppose their existence on February 14, 1859, therefore, I must report that it is my opinion the lake was a large open body of meanderable and navigable water in 1859 and at the time of the original survey in 1880 as well as at the present time, and in conclusion, I have the honor to recommend the lake now be meandered so that a plat can be prepared showing the correct delineation of the shoreline and the acreage of the subdivisions bounded by the lakes with a view to the issuance of the corrective patents in lieu of those erroneous ones which now describe the lands by legal subdivision irrespective of the water area."

Q. Who owns the submerged and submersible land underlying Tenmile and North Tenmile Lakes?

A. The people of Oregon own the submerged and submersible land of the lakes below the line of ordinary high-water. The State Land Board and the Department of State Lands manage these lands pursuant to the statutes and Land Board rules controlling the use, leasing and sale of state-owned submerged and submersible lands (ORS 274).
Q. Why does the State of Oregon say the public owns the Tenmile Lakes?

A. The state acquired ownership of the Tenmile Lakes upon admission to the Union in 1859. The state has asserted an ownership claim to the lakes by virtue of their fulfilling the federal court requirements for navigability. The lakes have sustained commercial and recreational use since their shores were first settled in the late nineteenth century, and quite possibly even before that by Indians. Boats carried milk to the creameries from lakeshore dairies during the 1890’s. School children, the mail and supplies have been continually and regularly transported over the lakes. Logs have been driven and towed over the lake from logging site to mill site. The "claim" has been attested by (1) a 1924 U.S. Government survey; (2) 1949 notification of all lakefront owners by the Land Board; (3) waterway leasing activity beginning in 1950; and (4) a 1977 Attorney General’s Opinion. Further, the 1924 finding of the U.S. Government’s Cadastral Engineer that the lakes should have been meandered links to a 1921 state law (ORS 274.430) declaring all meandered lakes as "navigable and public waters" with title to the underlying submerged and submersible land vesting in the State of Oregon.
Q. How did lakefront property owners get deeds that included lakebed land?

A. The Federal Government deeded out the bed of the lake beginning in 1877 after a federal surveyor erroneously failed to meander the lake as required by General Land Office instructions. Had the lake been meandered (surveyed) as required, the General Land Office would not have issued such patents (deeds) as lands under such navigable waters belong to the state.
Q. What about the property taxes on the lakebed lands?
A. In 1924, property owners complained of paying taxes on lakebed lands, despite efforts by the Coos County Assessor to resurvey the water boundaries. In 1978, the Coos County Assessor stated that the county was NOT taxing the submerged and submersible land under Tenmile Lakes.
Q. Where is the "line of ordinary high water?"

A. The line of ordinary high water is the upper limit of the public ownership of the lake. It is defined in law as "….that line upon the bank or shore to which the high water ordinarily rises annually in season." ORS 274.005.
Sometimes it is not easy to find the line on the ground by inspection or observation, so over the years the Department has relied on a specific lake elevation. Currently, the Department accepts 12.21 feet above mean sea level (MSL) as the upper limit of public ownership.
The Coos County Tax Assessment Maps indicate ordinary high water to be at about 9.0 feet MSL as interpreted from the U.S.G.S. Reedsport 15 minute quadrangle map. This results in a slightly larger taxable lot for lakefront owners than the 12.21 feet MSL elevation.
It is possible the historical line of ordinary high water (1859) is higher than the current level since the Lakeside Drainage District has periodically dredged the outlet channel beginning in about 1911.
Q. What is the Department doing to address management and water quality problems on the lakes?

A. The Department has worked with lakefront owners and other local and state agencies to identify the top priority concerns for lake management. The Department and the City of Lakeside have hosted/facilitated four meetings since October 1, 1997. Funds were provided to the City to assist in monitoring toxic algae blooms during the summer of 1998.
In addition, the Land Board has revised its waterway leasing rules to provide for simple, low cost, low hassle registration of most of the privately owned structures on the lakes. The Land Board has also adopted temporary rules for the control and regulation of public use of state-owned lands, including state-owned submerged and submersible lands.
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