residents eye lawsuit
By Leo Shane III
Port Clinton News Herald
COLUMBUS -- Coastal property owners lobbying for changes
in state permits and land leases along Lake Erie said they
will consider filing a class action lawsuit if lawmakers
don't get involved.
David Carek, president of the Ohio Lakefront Group, said
his organization has already spoken with several attorneys
who said they would represent the angry homeowners in
a case against the state.
"They think we have a good case," he said.
"We have data behind us that backs our position up.
But our focus for now is trying to get this bill through
Carek's group -- and dozens of coastal land owners who
have been making weekly trips to the Statehouse -- are
backing a bill which would establish the lake's low water
mark as a property's farthest boundary, do away with current
submerged land lease requirements and ease permit regulations
for docks and similar structures.
The state Department of Natural Resources supports a
second bill that would reorganize its office of coastal
management and make other changes to the permit and lease
processes. That bill would not deal with the low water
Department Director Sam Speck testified before a House
committee Wednesday that ODNR observes the high water
mark as the accepted, legal boundary for Ohio coastal
"The statute here is very clear in what we have
to do," he said. "We have to issue permits for
certain kinds of behavior. We don't have an option."
Carek's group claims the area between the high and low
water marks is deeded private property
that the department has been taking by forcing homeowners
to sign land leases.
For the last two weeks property owners have testified
before the committee chronicling problems with confusing
permit applications, hostile coastal management officials
and leases on land they believe is rightfully theirs.
Speck said the department has done its best in recent
years to try and correct such problems, last year creating
the coastal management office to provide a central point
for all Lake Erie issues.
"Hopefully, with the way we have restructured, we
will avoid these type of things in the future," he
said. "Anything less than good service is unacceptable."
But the director added that good service doesn't mean
ignoring the department's responsibility to oversee public
On Wednesday several lawmakers challenged Speck's interpretation
of property law, saying they sympathized and agreed with
the property owners use of the low water mark.
Speck, who serves as chairman of the Great Lakes Commission,
said six of the other eight Great Lakes states use the
high water mark as the start of public land, and the department
is simply protecting public land.
"We all have an interest in protecting private property
rights," he said. "No one should have a fear
of losing their home as a result of coastal management.
... The bottom line is we need to find a balance between
protecting the public rights to access and also protect
the rights of private owners."
The two bill sponsors -- Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland,
and Rep. Tom Neihaus, R-New Richmond -- will spend the
next few weeks trying to create a compromise bill.
Grendell said many issues -- including simplifying the
permitting process -- overlap and will be easy to resolve.
But he did not say how or if a compromise could be reached
on the boundary issue.
Carek said if the compromise legislation does not include
recognition of the low water mark and elimination of submerged
land leases against owners of small, private properties,
his group will go ahead with its lawsuit.