INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
The Indiana Supreme Court is taking up a long-running dispute that pits
public access to Lake Michigan against the rights of lakeside property
The high court will
decide in the coming weeks whether to vacate a state Court of Appeals
decision that all parties in the case believe was decided incorrectly, The
(Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
involves questions of how far inland the state's ownership extends beyond
the lake's actual water; how close to the water an individual can own
property; and who possesses the land in between that's sometimes covered by
plaintiffs in the case, Don and Bobbie Gunderson of Long Beach, contend that
their lakeside land extends to the water's edge, regardless of where the
edge is at any given time. They also contend that they were entitled to
exclusive use of that land - and that no one can walk, sunbathe or picnic on
the beach by their house without their permission.
In December, the
state Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that Indiana's interest extends
to the "ordinary high water mark." The court defined that as the line on the
shore where the presence and action of water is continuous enough to
distinguish it from land through erosion, vegetation changes or other
But the court also
held that the boundary of waterfront properties is the lake's ordinary low
water mark and that possession of the beach in between is shared by property
owners and the state. That was a first-of-its-kind decision for Indiana.
General Thomas Fisher said he believes it's indisputable that the state owns
the land up to the ordinary high water mark and that its interest does not
overlap with lakefront property owners to the low water mark.
In his petition
seeking transfer of the case to the high court, Fisher noted that Indiana's
exclusive title to the land up to the high water mark was established at
statehood in 1816, and it cannot simply be given away through a court
But the Gundersons
have cited precedent dating back to the 1787 Northwest Ordinance to make
their case that the government's interest is limited to navigable waters and
does not include shorelines, which they claim may be privately owned.
"Any boundary other
than the navigable waters of Lake Michigan, for the public trust or the
Gunderson property, is an arbitrary line in the sand and contrary to law,"
said the Gundersons' attorney, Michael Knight.
The Alliance for
the Great Lakes, Save the Dunes and the Long Beach Community Alliance are
also asking the state Supreme Court to set aside the lower court ruling and
independently resolve the dispute.
In particular, they
want the high court to affirm that only the state owns the land up to the
high water mark, no matter what is shown on any land deed purporting to
grant that property to a private owner.