Many people enjoy strolling the beaches of the Great Lakes, and believe it’s as much their shoreline as anyone else’s. But there are a lot of lakefront property owners who believe that beach strolling amounts to trespassing. And in at least two states in the region, that dispute has wound up in the courts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has
Many people enjoy strolling the beaches of the Great Lakes, and believe it’s as much their shoreline as anyone else’s. But there are a lot of lakefront property owners who believe that beach strolling amounts to trespassing, and in at least two states in the region, that dispute has wound up in the courts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has more:
In Michigan, the state Supreme Court recently declared the entire 3,200 miles of Great Lakes coast is public property. But a group of lakefront property owners says the decision has created a host of problems.
They’re complaining that it appears to leave them with no recourse for dealing with people who cross the line of considerate behavior, such as loud picnickers, and careless dog-walkers. Ernie Krygier is with one of the most active property owners’ groups, Save Our Shoreline.
“There’s a lot of other instances that we’re concerned with, and it all goes back to ownership and control to the water’s edge. If you don’t own it, it’s going to be very difficult to control it.”
The Michigan property owners now want the state Supreme Court to issue a more-detailed ruling on what’s allowed and not allowed on the Great Lakes beaches. Krygier says they’re also hoping to win back at least some of the shoreline.
If not, he says, the property owners could file a lawsuit claiming the court’s action amounts to a seizure of their property, and they’re entitled to perhaps billions of dollars in compensation.
(Sound of beach)
A sign posted here on a Lake Michigan beach by a property owners’ association warns people who might wander past that they’re about to tread upon private property, but many people walk right past it anyway to enjoy a stroll on the shoreline. Jim Wright lives nearby, and says he’s walked this stretch of beach for twenty years.
“They, they put out little signs and that. But the signs, you know, are not anything official. It’s just something they got from a signmaker. And so we just kind of ignore them, and they accept them being ignored.”
The recent Michigan Supreme Court said it’s okay for Wright and everyone else to ignore the sign. The ruling said Great Lakes beaches are a unique resource, held in trust by the state for the public to use and enjoy.
The court said public access in Michigan extends from the water to the high water line. That line meanders from beach to beach, from lake to lake, and from season to season. It’s generally indicated by debris deposits, or the absence of beach grass and other vegetation, and Jim Wright says the court made the right decision.
“I’ve always felt that the whole shoreline belongs to the state and no one person, so that was a good ruling that they made and I think most people will be very happy with it.”
It’s a controversy that’s playing out in other Great Lakes states. In Ohio, officials are saying the Michigan decision supports their position that the Lake Erie coast belongs to the public. Shoreline property owners there are suing the state, asking a federal court to declare they own the beaches adjacent to their property.
Noah Hall is a Wayne State University environmental law professor who’s filed briefs on behalf of conservation organizations supporting public access to the entire Great Lakes shoreline. He says the Michigan decision will have a regional impact.
“I think that it would be completely reasonable and expected for another state to look very hard at Michigan’s reasoning and analysis in this case and probably adopt a similar line.”
He says the Michigan decision is a boost to those arguing the entire Great Lakes shoreline belongs to the public, and not to any private interest.
For the GLRC, I’m Rick Pluta.