Groups protest shoreline deal
By Leo Shane III
The Ohio News-Messenger
COLUMBUS -- A coalition of environmentalists and former
state officials on Monday called plans for a compromise
on private coastal property boundaries an illegal and
unethical breach of lawmakers' duty to protect public
"Lake Erie and its shoreline belong to all the citizens,"
said Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental
Council. "This bill is Robin Hood in reverse. It
robs from the public and gives to the privileged few."
On Wednesday a House committee is scheduled to unveil
the compromise bill, drafted after negotiations with the
state Department of Natural Resources and Lake Erie homeowners,
who have angrily protested at the Statehouse over the
last two months.
Several shoreline property owners, lead by the Ohio Lakefront
Group, have charged ODNR with forcing them off land between
the lake's high-water and low-water marks. State officials
have maintained that area is public land, and anyone building
docks or jetties on it must sign a submerged land lease.
The compromise bill is expected to recognize private
property owners' rights to the low water mark with certain
restrictions on construction and public access.
But Monday's protest called for no change in the current
property boundary laws. The coalition presented a letter
from four former ODNR directors opposing any such proposal,
calling it a risk to the integrity of the lake.
"If there is a problem with the way the permitting
system is being managed, than let's fix it," Shaner
said. "But we don't need to go to the radical step
of turning over the lakeshore."
Larry Mitchell Jr., president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen,
predicted more fences and "no trespassing" signs
along the shore if the boundary laws are changed.
"That land belongs to us as Ohioans," he said.
But David Carek, president of the lakefront group, said
giving property owners rights to the low-water mark would
not create new restrictions for the public or allow homeowners
to build whatever they desire.
"This does not do anything that would remove regulatory
authority over those lands," he said. "Those
building regulations would still be in full effect."
Carek said lawmakers need to clarify the property lines
so land owners aren't forced to pay taxes and leasing
fees on the same shore land, as is the case for many homeowners
But Elaine Marsh, spokeswoman for Great Lakes United,
said those problems aren't reason to turn over ownership
of the beaches.
"Over the past 25 years we have spent billions of
dollars to restore the lake," she said. "We
patrol it; we test it; we pay to protect it. And now they
want to take our land. And incredulously the state legislature
proposes to help them."
Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, said the
land in dispute was bought by property owners and taxed
by local agencies, making it private land. He said the
compromise bill balances those private property rights
and the public's right to the lake.
He also criticized the protest as premature, because
the bill's details won't be unveiled until Wednesday.