bill would use low-water boundary on Lake Erie
By Leo Shane III
Ohio News Messenger
COLUMBUS -- Lawmakers are finalizing a compromise bill that
would establish the low-water mark as coastal properties'
farthest boundary and ease permitting restrictions on private
structures along Lake Erie like docks and break walls.
Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, said although the legislation
is not complete, the tentative proposal would "recognize
private property owners rights" by establishing the
low-water mark as the boundary between lakefront plots
and the start of public land.
In addition, the bill would allow property owners building
structures past the high-water mark to avoid the state
Department of Natural Resources' permitting process if
comparable reviews are completed by other agencies, possibly
including the Army Corps of Engineers and local building
Grendell and other lawmakers from the House Energy and
Environment Committee met Tuesday in an attempt to deal
with the complaints of dozens of homeowners who have been
petitioning lawmakers to curb ODNR's coastal management
Members of the Ohio Lakefront Group have charged the
state agency with mismanagement for its regulation of
the area between the high and low water marks along Lake
Department officials insist that land is public domain
under state and federal law, and any structures built
there are subject to state construction regulations.
Homeowners believe the land is rightfully theirs, and
have attacked the department for making many residents
sign land leases for the submerged property before allowing
any construction. The lakefront group has threatened a
class-action lawsuit if the state does not recognize the
Last month the House committee began discussions on Grendell's
initial bill, backed by homeowners, and an ODNR-backed
bill by Rep. Tom Niehuas, R-New Richmond.
Niehaus' bill contained permit simplification proposals
but left the high-water mark. On Wednesday he said Grendell's
original bill will be the vehicle for the compromise legislation,
with several changes in permit regulations.
"We're looking for a simplified, one-step permitting
process," Niehaus said. "But I think we have
a plan that will protect the interests of both public
and private property owners."
Grendell said the specifics of permit issuances, renewals,
and exemptions have yet to be determined.
His goal is to make that system more analogous to wetlands
construction permits, which are generally issued only
once for the life of a structure, allowing maintenance
and minor repairs to take place without new permits.
He is also confident the compromise will answer the coastal
property owners' concerns.
"If we recognize their property rights and have
a reasonable process ... I think they can be satisfied
with that," he said.
David Carek, president of the lakefront group, said he
is pleased with the newest proposal.
"We all recognize the need for some regulation,"
he said. "I don't want my neighbor dumping things
on my property. We really wanted to streamline the regulatory
authority and stop any arbitrary regulation."
The proposed bill has been forwarded to the Army Corps
of Engineers and federal aquatic regulatory agencies to
see if any provisions could conflict with existing rules
or jeopardize coastal management grants.
Niehaus said he expects a final bill to be introduced
to the House committee by Nov. 1.