shoreline bill in mix
By Leo Shane III
Port Clinton News Herald
COLUMBUS -- A second bill dealing with Ohio's coastal management
is drawing praise from the Department of Natural Resources
and opposition from lakefront homeowners.
For the last two weeks dozens of Lake Erie's coastal
residents have been packing Ohio House committee hearings
to convince lawmakers to overhaul ODNR's office of coastal
management and set clear guidelines for their property
Those protesters have been backing a bill sponsored by
Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, that would, in part,
establish the lake's low water mark as the furthest edge
of their properties, contrary to the department's use
of the high water mark.
This week the House environment committee began reviewing
another coastal management bill -- this one sponsored
by Rep. Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond -- which includes
similar changes to the coastal office's operations but
omits those property lines.
Niehaus called the measure a way to make the permitting
process more efficient and easier for residents. He said
he hopes to work with Grendell on exploring whether the
two bills can come together to form compromise legislation
agreeable to both sides.
"Part of the problems (with residents) has frankly
been poor management of some areas," he said "It's
a combination of seemingly contradictory regulations and
problems with coordination."
Niehaus' bill would change permitting fees and procedures,
consolidate various advisory councils and effectively
put the office in direct control of most coastal erosion
and protection issues. Grendell's measure makes changes
in similar areas, but they are opposed by ODNR.
Brenda Culler-Gautschi, spokeswoman for the office of
coastal management, said ODNR officials helped write Niehaus'
legislation and see it as a way to respond to concerns
from coastal residents.
"It's going to benefit everybody," she said.
"It's going to make the permitting process as fair
and efficient as possible for residents, and it simplifies
things on our end."
But members of the Ohio Lakefront Group, the main supporter
of Grendell's bill, said the new bill is irrelevant because
it doesn't deal with the focus of their complaints: establishing
where private shoreline ends and public land begins.
"This really doesn't help much," said David
Carek, president of the organization. "In some cases
it creates more problems."
Culler-Gautschi said under state and federal law the
lake's high water mark is the end of any private property,
and her department has a responsibility to police any
structures built past that point.
But group officials maintain that legal interpretation
is wrong, that the low water mark is the legal end of
a private property owner's land, and that ODNR officials
have been forcing residents into improper leases for docks
and break walls built in the disputed area.
Carek also argued that the state's lease laws for public
lands were never meant to apply to smaller structures
designed simply to protect private land. Culler-Gautschi
disputed the group's assertions.
"Even if this coastal management office didn't exist,
there would still be that responsibility for administering
the public trust," she said. "Sometimes people
are unhappy with regulations."
But Ohio Lakefront Group members said they will not support
any legislation which ignores the low water mark boundary.
"By not addressing the issue, they're just leaving
it open to ODNR's interpretation," said Anthony Yankel,
vice president of the group.
Additional testimony on both bills is scheduled for Wednesday
at 10:30 a.m. Carek said another busload of lakefront
residents will attend that meeting.