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Great Lakes Article:

House panel approves shoreline bill
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 fought for.

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.

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