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Oregon Coast beach sandIf, as expected, climate change and sea level rise become a bigger threat to private property in the 21st century, ancient doctrines about boundary changes, including accretion, reliction and avulsion will become increasingly important.  On August 14, 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court explained its view of accretion in Sea River Properties, LLC v. Parks, 355 Or 831 (2014).

The case arose just north of Rockaway Beach along the Nehalem River and involved grants of land that went back over a century and a half.  There was a complex geologic and factual background, but the question the court had to answer was who owned land that had generally built up west of the defendant’s land and north of the plaintiff’s land between the old bed of the Nehalem river (before the federal government built a jetty) and the ocean.  The Oregon Supreme Court chose not to exercise its ability to re-weigh the facts and, relying on the facts found by the trial court, concluded that “accreted land belongs to the upland owner where the accretion began,” even if it eventually grows in front of the property of another.

In itself, this case is not particularly surprising or interesting, but, as climate change continues to affect our world, these cases will only become more common and it behooves practitioners to understand the application of the common law property doctrines involved in shifting boundary lines.

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