LAKE ERIE Homeowners, DNR clash over coastal property rule

A $50 lifetime permit is still not satisfactory to landowners, who claim the shore is theirs.
SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) -- Lake Erie homeowners who want lawmakers to resolve a dispute over where private property begins along the shore oppose a state agency's proposed rule change as a halfway measure to resolve the dispute.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says the public has rights to the water and dry land below the historic high water mark. But the deeds of most property owners state they own property up to the "Ohio low water mark."
A bill changing Ohio's coastal management program failed to pass before the previous Legislature disbanded. The natural resources department, saying by law it can't address the property rights issue, proposed a rule swap to appease property owners -- who still aren't happy.
Permit proposal
The proposal calls for ending a requirement that landowners lease land from the state for structures including docks and erosion control walls that they build beyond the high-water mark. The program raises about $100,000 a year.
The department proposed new rules that would instead allow homeowners to buy a lifetime $50 permit. The department said savings on staff time for lease renewal would make up for any lost revenue.
The proposed rules also would end a requirement for liability insurance on the structures covering any potential losses to the state. Leases would still be available if property owners choose them, and the changes would not apply to commercial properties.
Homeowners oppose either plan, saying both options require them to pay to use land they already own and are paying taxes on.
"If getting rid of the lease means giving up property rights or having to buy a permit on my own land, that can't happen," said James O'Connor, of Sheffield Lake, about 20 miles west of Cleveland. He opposes any coastal management program that doesn't define the property line as the water's edge.
The agency said neither permits nor leases signify ownership.
"You have a license plate on your car. That doesn't mean the state owns your car," agency spokesman Dave Pagnard said.
Finding the line
The high and low water marks are based on historic U.S. Army Corps of Engineer data on lake levels. The difference can be just a few feet of elevation, but can translate to large beach areas depending on the slope of the land.
Two landowner groups also have pending lawsuits in two different county courts seeking to define the property line.
Tony Yankel, president of the Ohio Lakefront Group representing the angry landowners, at a meeting this month urged a legislative committee that reviews proposed rule changes to reject the department's proposal until either lawmakers or the courts resolve who owns what.
The Ohio Environmental Council supports the proposed rules as a fair compromise, said lobbyist Jack Shaner.
"We are a little reluctant in that it grants a lifetime permit and looks like a pretty rock-bottom fee associated with that," he said. "But if this can solve or help address that hue and cry raised by property owners, so be it."

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