House panel approves shoreline
By Leo Shane III
COLUMBUS -- The House could vote today on a bill to settle
a property dispute between state officials and Lake Erie
homeowners, despite protests from environmentalists and
the Department of Natural Resources.
Tuesday night a House committee approved the measure
by a 12-1 count. Chairwoman Rep. Nancy Hollister, R-Marietta,
said she expects the bill will be put up for a full House
vote this afternoon.
The bill establishes permitting procedures for all structures
built past the lake's high water mark and declares public
property to begin "where the waters of Lake Erie
make contact with the land."
Officials at ODNR for years have used the high water
mark -- the Lake's highest water mark in the past 100
years -- as the boundary between public and private land.
The state has required property owners building past that
line to pay for land leases.
Members of the Ohio Lakefront Group have insisted the
state's authority doesn't begin until the lake's low-water
mark, and have said the department's actions in requiring
the leases are tantamount to stealing private land.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, said the
latest version of the legislation ignores the high-water/low-water
demarcations for private property boundaries and instead
recognizes the water and submerged land as the responsibilities
of the state.
Environmental groups called that decision a transfer
of public land to private homeowners.
"This is a drastic, overreaching solution to what
is, if anything, a management problem," said David
Scott of the Sierra Club. "Solving these problems
with ODNR does not require redrawing boundaries."
Mark Squillace, a law professor from the University of
Toledo, called the legislation "a land grab of historic
proportions, one that purports to deny the citizens of
Ohio access to the lake."
ODNR director Sam Speck told the committee he has serious
concerns about how the new bill would affect public access
for swimmers, boaters and fishermen.
But Grendell said citizens already have limited access
to beaches adjacent to private property, and House minority
leader Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, challenged
Speck to find any location where this bill would further
limit public access.
"Even upon approval of this ... the public will
not be wanting for access," Redfern said. "Wading
along the shoreline -- that is allowed, and property owners
don't object to that."
The bill also eliminates land leases for non-commercial
properties and allows construction permits to remain valid
for the life of a structure -- both major points the homeowners
The legislation also includes reorganization of ODNR's
coastal management office and simplification of permitting
requirements, which department officials requested.
ODNR officials conceded the bill will likely pass the
House today, and said they plan on working with Senate
officials to correct problems they see in the proposal.