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Great Lakes Article:

Compromise 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 experts.

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 program.

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 Erie.

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 low-water mark.

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.

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