happy in dispute over lake shoreline
By Leo Shane III
COLUMBUS -- Right now no one seems happy with the bill designed
to appease everyone involved in the Lake Erie shoreline
At a committee hearing Tuesday, environmental groups
blasted the measure as an illegal land give-away that
would limit public access to the lake. Homeowners with
coastal land said the legislation is full of unneeded
restrictions and property-right infringements.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials called
it a hastily constructed document that could damage their
coastal management efforts.
"A lot of work needs to be done with the language
in this bill," said Jim Lynch, spokesman for the
department. "There are things that are just too vague.
There are small errors that could cause large problems
in the future."
The proposal, unveiled last week, was the compromise
between two bills that took different approaches to solving
the coastal dispute.
One, supported by homeowners, established the lake's
low water mark as the public boundary. The other, backed
by the department and environmental groups, revamped ODNR's
coastal management office and ignored the boundary dispute.
Those two sides have been sparring in Statehouse meetings
during the past two months over the legal status of property
at the water's edge.
State officials say federal law dictates the lake's high-water
mark as the end of private property. Homeowners with deeds
to the lake's low-water mark say the state is stealing
that in-between land by coercing homeowners into leases
for docks and other structures in the disputed zone.
Department geologists estimate the high-water/low-water
area totals more than 8,000 acres across Ohio's 262-mile
border with Lake Erie.
The new bill sets the lake's low-water mark as the end
of private property, eliminates underwater leases for
non-commercial land, and revamps the coastal structure
David Carek, chairman of the Ohio Lakefront Group, said
the bill didn't go far enough in simplifying the permit
process and establishing property owners' rights. He suggested
eliminating professional engineer design requirements
for coastal structures and grandfathering existing structures.
John Piskura, mayor-elect of Sheffield Lake, said he
would like to see more reliance on local government rules
"I don't believe the state needs permitting authority
for these things when the local government already has
it," he said.
But the Ohio Environmental Council voiced the opposite
complaint, saying the new proposal would give too little
control to state officials for erosion control and other
coastal management programs.
"This is an illegal taking of land, and the public
gets nothing in return," said Jack Shaner, spokesman
for the council. "If we push that high-water mark
down, the net result is to literally push public access
to Lake Erie offshore."
William Nye, lawyer for the council and a former ODNR
director, said the legislation would take away the state's
ability to fine homeowners for coastal violations and
leave vulnerable critical spawning areas for aquatic life.
In a letter to the committee current ODNR Director Samuel
Speck echoed those concerns, saying the bill could "erode
the state's responsibility and ability to protect the
public trust interests for all Ohioans."
Debate on the bill will resume in committee the first
week in December. Committee chairwoman Rep. Nancy Hollister,
R-Marietta, said she does not know when the bill could
be put up for a vote.