Stop the Illegal Giveaway! Groups urge lawmakers to abandon attempted giveaway of Lake Erie Coast

Stop the Illegal Giveaway! Groups urge lawmakers to abandon attempted giveaway of Lake Erie Coast

By Kristy Meyer

“Stop now, before you rob the Lake Erie shore from Ohio’s 11 million citizens and hand it over to a relative handful of upland private property owners.” That’s what conservation groups and former Ohio Department of Natural Resources directors are warning state lawmakers.

The debate revolves around Ohio House Bill 206 and Ohio Senate Bill 127, which propose to strip thousands of acres of Lake Erie shoreline from the public and hand it over to adjacent private property owners.

The groups, including the Ohio Environmental Council, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, Audubon Ohio, and the National Wildlife Federation, strongly opposed proposed legislation, pointing out that the two bills amount to a giveaway of public lands.

If passed, this legislation will have many negative consequences for Ohio:

  • Privatize exposed and submerged lake lands that lie land-ward of the water’s edge, but lake-ward of the ordinary high water mark – lands that Ohio has forever since the statehood held in trust for all of the people of Ohio.
  • Turn families, bird-watchers, anglers, beach-goers, and waders that utilize Lake Erie’s coastal lands adjacent to upland private property into criminal trespassers.
  • Scuttle the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s authority to comprehensively review proposed lakeshore projects for their potential impact to navigation,water commerce, fishery, environmental quality, and public recreation, resulting in a loss of millions of dollars of federal aid to Ohio and shoreline communities.
  • Result in a free-for-all of residential and commercial development along the Lake Erie coast that will be beyond the legal control of not only the state, but also of local governments, threatening the fragile environment of the Lake Erie coast. In just a few years, oil rigs, fences, and private piers could stick out into the lake from Toledo to Ashtabula.
  • Imperil Ohio’s share of a multi-billion dollar Great Lakes restoration effort.
  • Threaten sensitive marshland and other lake lands that provide nurseries and critical habit for fish and wildlife with uncontrollable development.

“This bill is Robin Hood in reverse. It robs from the public and gives to the privileged few. It’s grand larceny, and the public gets nothing in return,” said Jack Shaner, a spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Council.

Under Ohio law, the state can allow private landowners with property next to the lakeshore to build boat docks and other structures to access the lake or to protect their adjacent property from erosion. Some upland landowners are upset that the state requires a permit and lease fees for permission to place a structure on the lakeshore.

Larry Mitchell, League of Ohio Sportsmen President, said that the proposed legislation would privatize the lakeshore, keeping many anglers from enjoying Lake Erie.“Most sportsmen can’t afford a fancy boat. They take the family bank-fishing so the kids can wander down the shore, skipping stones and exploring. This legislation takes away that heritage and our birthright to the coast.”

“Senators DeWine and Voinovich are pushing hard for billions of dollars in federal funding to restore the Great Lakes. Of all lakes, Lake Erie needs that funding to clean up toxic pollution, control dangerous invasive species, and expand public access. Ohio’s state lawmakers will look pretty silly if they give away the shoreline and open it up to anything-goes development,” said Jerome Ringo, chairman of the National Wildlife Federation and a sportsman from Louisiana.

Michigan recently faced a similar shoreline issue. But on July 29, 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Glass vs Goeckel, that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to the shores of the Great Lakes, and upheld the public’s right to walk the Great Lakes shoreline below the ordinary high-water mark. The public trust doctrine serves to protect resources shared in common by the public.

“Ohio’s statehouse debate sounds like a rebroadcast of the Michigan Supreme Court debate,” said attorney Pam Burt of Harrisville, MI. “Same script, just different players. But the Ohio attempt to subject public trust lands of Lake Erie to purely private ownership and control would, if successful, amount to one of the biggest public land giveaways in American history.”

The conservation groups warned that any attempt to tamper with the high watermark would be illegal and a violation of the public trust doctrine.

Elaine Marsh, longtime advocate for the lake and founder of Friends of Crooked River, pointed out that public investment in Lake Erie pays dividends to all. “The economic, environmental and recreational value of Lake Erie is totally dependent on public dollars, public recreation, and public participation. If the state wants to keep public support, then the state should not give away any of the public trust.”

For more information: Kristy Meyer, GLAHNF Lake Advisor
Ohio Environmental Council
1207 Grandview Ave., Suite 201, Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 487-7506 • kristy@theoec.org

 

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