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Great Lakes Article:

Squabble erupts over Lake Erie shoreline
Conservation groups say some lakefront property owners lied
By James Drew
Toledo Blade

COLUMBUS - A coalition of five conservation groups yesterday accused some lakefront property owners of "misleading" legislators to gain support for a bill that critics say would restrict public access to Lake Erie's 262-mile shore.

"State lawmakers should form public policy based on fact, not fiction, " said Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council. "But our record reveals that the property owners are not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Members of the Ohio Lakefront Group - which has battled the state over property rights - rejected the charge.

"It is a pretty disgusting tactic," said David Carek, the group's chairman. "Instead of providing credible legal evidence to support their claim, they have to go and attack people who testify in a public forum."

By a 75-20 vote Dec. 10, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a bill that would redefine the southern boundary of Lake Erie "public trust lands" from the ordinary high water mark set by the federal government to "where the waters .?.?. make contact with the land" in Ohio.

The bill, which a Senate committee is reviewing, is in response to complaints from several private property owners that the state has asserted control over private land by using the ordinary high water mark - a surveying point set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - as a property line.

But the coalition of conservation groups - which includes Audubon Ohio and the League of Ohio Sportsmen - says the bill would allow a "radical land grab" by lakefront property owners.

Those groups assert that a doctrine called the "public trust" allows the state to regulate Lake Erie waters from the boundary with Canada to where the high-water mark intersects the natural shoreline. It also allows the public to use that area for fishing, swimming, boating, and walking along the shore.

Mr. Shaner said on Sept. 17, 2003, Cherry Peirce of Marblehead told a House committtee:"I've already lost the sale on one property, and that property's value has plummeted. I'll soon lose another, along with my house. Both are casualties of the current [state] Coastal Management Program."

On Oct. 10, 2003, Ms. Peirce sold her commercial property to Perrysburg-based Lake Shore Development, Inc. for $2 million when Ottawa County auditor records showed the land had an appraised value of $657,140, Mr. Shaner said.

Ms. Peirce yesterday denied that she misled legislators. She said after paying off loans, she made only a $38,000 profit.

"I spent four years of my life not making a penny on the land," she said.

The Ohio Lakefront Group, with 4,000 members, has complained about a state requirement that they say gives the state legal control over often-submerged land to get a permit to erect erosion-control walls or replace docks.

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