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Great Lakes Article:

Another 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 boundaries.

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.

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