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Great Lakes Article:

Nobody happy in dispute over lake shoreline
By Leo Shane III
The News-Messenger
11/21/03



COLUMBUS -- Right now no one seems happy with the bill designed to appease everyone involved in the Lake Erie shoreline dispute.

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 permitting process.

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 as well.

"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.


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