Lake Michigan property line dispute arguments set

July 25, 2016

A dispute over whether the public has a right to walk the beach along Lake Michigan or private property extends to the water’s edge will be heard by the Indiana Court of Appeals Sept. 5.

An exact line in the sand separating public and private land has never been drawn along Indiana’s modest stretch of the Great Lake shoreline.

Landowners in Long Beach in LaPorte County sued
the state of Indiana and others seeking a declaration that their property extends to the navigable water of Lake Michigan. The issue divided the small, affluent community in a case that counts 15 parties and friends of the court arrayed on both sides of the debate.

Public trust advocates argue Indiana received the bed of Lake Michigan at statehood in 1816, and that the private property line ought to be the ordinary high water mark of the lake. Private-property rights proponents argue their deeds convey a right to all the land up to the water’s edge, and therefore they should be able to control to beach.

Both sides expect the case is likely to ultimately be decided by the Indiana Supreme Court.

LaPorte Superior Judge Richard Stalbrink in a decision that pleased neither side ordered the line to be set according to 312 Ind. Admin. Code 1-1-26(2) at an elevation of 581.5 feet above sea level. That measurement was established in 1985 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Natural Resources has since measured and placed stakes marking that level at various points on the lakeshore.

The case, Gunderson, et al. v. State of Indiana, et al., 46A04-1601-PL-84, will be heard at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5 in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom. Scheduled panelists are Judges John Baker, Elaine Brown and Melissa May.


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