Coastal property owners would
benefit under bill
By James Drew
The Toledo Blade
COLUMBUS - Ohio would shift ownership of private lakefront
property from the ordinary high water mark of Lake Erie
to whatever deeds say - and often that is the low water
mark, a state lawmaker said yesterday.
State Rep. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) tomorrow plans
to release a new version of his bill that many lakefront
property owners have backed as a way to prevent the state
from controlling property for which they pay taxes on.
"This new bill balances the constitutional rights
of property owners with ongoing protection of coastal
management and erosion control," Mr. Grendell said.
But four former directors of the state Department of
Natural Resources yesterday urged lawmakers to reject
any bill that would "put our coastal resources at
risk by giving those few Ohioans who own land directly
on the lakeshore the ability to extend their holdings
and into the lake itself. "
The letter was signed by former directors William Nye,
Robert Teater, Joseph Sommer, and Frances Buchholzer.
"A small but vocal handful of coastal landowners
- those fortunate to own some of the most desirable and
costly real estate in Ohio - have opposed responsible
management of the Lake Erie coast and are seeking this
bill to extend their control over resources that are the
heritage of all Ohioans," wrote the four former ODNR
directors, who worked for Democratic and Republican governors.
Several lakefront property owners have told legislators
that their deeds say their property ends at the low water
mark, not the ordinary high water mark. Those are surveying
points set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for all
of the Great Lakes.
The ordinary high water mark is the boundary between
Lake Erieís Public Trust lands and shorefront property.
State officials say the Public Trust doctrine allows the
state to regulate Lake Erie waters from the boundary with
Canada to the point where the ordinary high water mark
intersects with the natural shoreline.
Mr. Grendell said the new version of his bill also would
eliminate a program in which the state leases back often-submerged
property to private landowners for 50 years.
Instead, property owners would pay a one-time fee for
a permit to erect erosion-control walls or build or replace
docks below the ordinary high water mark. The amounts
have not been determined for residential and business
"We are not rewriting peopleís deeds. Itís based
on whether it says it is to the high water mark, low water
mark, or somewhere in between," Mr. Grendell said.
But conservationists said the bill would further restrict
access to the lake for swimming, boating, fishing, and
wading. Mr. Nye, who served as ODNR director from 1971
to 1975, cited a 1945 Ohio Supreme Court decision that
said upland land owners have no title beyond the natural
shoreline and they have only the right of access and wharfing
out to navigable water.
The state Department of Natural Resources has taken part
in closed-door meetings over the new version of Mr. Grendellís
bill. The department, however, wonít take a position on
it until officials can analyze the bill, an aide to DNR
Director Sam Speck said.