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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2003

Coastal property owners would benefit under bill


COLUMBUS - Ohio would shift ownership of private lakefront property from the ordinary high water mark of Lake Erie to whatever deeds say - and often that is the low water mark, a state lawmaker said yesterday.

State Rep. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) tomorrow plans to release a new version of his bill that many lakefront property owners have backed as a way to prevent the state from controlling property for which they pay taxes on.

“This new bill balances the constitutional rights of property owners with ongoing protection of coastal management and erosion control,” Mr. Grendell said.

But four former directors of the state Department of Natural Resources yesterday urged lawmakers to reject any bill that would “put our coastal resources at risk by giving those few Ohioans who own land directly on the lakeshore the ability to extend their holdings and into the lake itself. “

The letter was signed by former directors William Nye, Robert Teater, Joseph Sommer, and Frances Buchholzer.

“A small but vocal handful of coastal landowners - those fortunate to own some of the most desirable and costly real estate in Ohio - have opposed responsible management of the Lake Erie coast and are seeking this bill to extend their control over resources that are the heritage of all Ohioans,” wrote the four former ODNR directors, who worked for Democratic and Republican governors.

Several lakefront property owners have told legislators that their deeds say their property ends at the low water mark, not the ordinary high water mark. Those are surveying points set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for all of the Great Lakes.

The ordinary high water mark is the boundary between Lake Erie s Public Trust lands and shorefront property. State officials say the Public Trust doctrine allows the state to regulate Lake Erie waters from the boundary with Canada to the point where the ordinary high water mark intersects with the natural shoreline.

Mr. Grendell said the new version of his bill also would eliminate a program in which the state leases back often-submerged property to private landowners for 50 years.

Instead, property owners would pay a one-time fee for a permit to erect erosion-control walls or build or replace docks below the ordinary high water mark. The amounts have not been determined for residential and business property owners.

“We are not rewriting people s deeds. It s based on whether it says it is to the high water mark, low water mark, or somewhere in between,” Mr. Grendell said.

But conservationists said the bill would further restrict access to the lake for swimming, boating, fishing, and wading. Mr. Nye, who served as ODNR director from 1971 to 1975, cited a 1945 Ohio Supreme Court decision that said upland land owners have no title beyond the natural shoreline and they have only the right of access and wharfing out to navigable water.

The state Department of Natural Resources has taken part in closed-door meetings over the new version of Mr. Grendell s bill. The department, however, won t take a position on it until officials can analyze the bill, an aide to DNR Director Sam Speck said.

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