Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Supreme Court rules Lake Michigan shoreline open to all

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in a landmark decision that Lake Michigan’s shoreline is open to all, and adjacent property owners can't exercise exclusive control of the beach between their homes and the water.

The 4-0 ruling Wednesday sets the ordinary high water mark as the boundary between the state-owned land under Lake Michigan and the interests of private property owners, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported. The high water mark is defined as the line on the shore created by the fluctuations of water.

The ruling settled a longstanding dispute with Don and Bobbie Gunderson, who alleged the deed to their lake-adjacent property showed it extending to the water's edge, regardless of where the water’s edge is at any given time. Their attorney argued that landowners have the right to limit who uses the beaches abutting their properties.

Justice Mark Massa said the land extending from that line and continuing into and under the water of Lake Michigan was granted to Indiana at statehood, and has continuously been held in trust for residents since 1816. Individuals are entitled to access the water for navigation, commerce or fishing.

The high court also ruled that at a minimum, walking on the beach is a protected public use. But the justices also said it’s up to the General Assembly to decide whether to enact “any enlargement of public rights on the beaches of Lake Michigan.”

Among those participating on behalf of public rights to the beach was the The Long Beach Community Alliance. According to LBCA Attorney Patricia Sharkey, “This clarification of the boundary of the public lands should end ambiguity and disputes on our Lake Michigan beach. The presence of terrestrial vegetation, such as trees and shrubs, is recognized as the primary indicator of the “natural Ordinary High Water Mark” and has the advantage of being readily discernible by the public, adjacent property owners, and State enforcement officials.”

The LBCA Board issued the following statement:

“For LBCA and Long Beach residents, this is a long-awaited victory. We commend the Indiana Supreme Court for its careful analysis. In addition to protecting the rights of the public to use the beach, this decision protects the beach from the onslaught of private construction that has encroached on the public beach in recent years. This decision will be heralded for generations for saving the Indiana Lake Michigan beach from privatization.”

In 2015, the Indiana Superior Court in Michigan City ruled that the beach was owned by the State of Indiana and held in trust for use by the public, but only up to a fixed elevation on the beach established by a 1995 Indiana Department of Natural Resources rule.

In 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the Superior Court’s ruling, but reversed the Superior Court determination that the DNR fixed elevation was the boundary of the “public trust.” Striking down the DNR rule, the Court of Appeals held that the boundary of the public trust is the common law “ordinary high water mark.”

The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday affirms that the state has ownership rights to the high water mark. The ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Posted 2/16/2018


Posted 2/15/2018





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