Lake Michigan public use bill advances to Indiana House

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A bill establishing in state law the permitted public uses of the shore of Lake Michigan passed the Indiana Senate on Monday and now moves to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 553 cleared the Senate on a 32-16 vote. All 16 votes against the legislation came from House Republicans.

The bill defines public use of the lakeshore as activities from sunbathing, swimming and surfing to fishing, boating with non-motorized watercraft such as canoes and kayaks, and other activities that don’t constitute a public nuisance or interfere with others’ right to use the beach.

Bill author Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said in a statement that the United States Supreme Court’s rejection last week of a lawsuit that sought to restrict public access along Indiana’s 45 miles of Great Lakes shoreline makes passing public-access legislation more critical. The nation’s high court opted not to take an appeal of Gunderson v. Indiana, in which the Indiana Supreme Court found a public right to the Lake Michigan shore but left it to the Legislature to spell out permitted recreational uses.

 “It is my intention in this bill to define recreation as broadly as possible so Hoosiers can continue using the beaches in the same way they have been used for the past century,” Tallian said. “With the U.S. Supreme Court keeping the Indiana ruling in place, this bill is the next logical step to solidifying Hoosiers’ access to the shoreline and the ability to take part in the activities they enjoy.”

The legislation also would assign oversight of the shoreline to the Department of Natural Resources, which could designate some oversight responsibilities to local law enforcement and government entities. The legislation also would require any construction on the Lake Michigan shore to be subject to DNR regulation.

Tallian’s bill aligns the public access to the shore with the Indiana Supreme Court’s Gunderson decision, declaring a public right to use the shore from the water’s edge to the ordinary high water mark. The bill was amended to provide that where the OHWM cannot be determined, the Department of Natural Resources may establish it at 581.5 feet above sea level, or at such level as determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Another Lake Michigan-related bill cleared the Senate on Thursday and awaits action in the House. Senate Bill 581 cleared the upper chamber 48-1. Authored by Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Syracuse, the legislation would establish a Lake Michigan shore zone inland above the ordinary high water mark to regulate seawalls and control the flow of water across private property along the lakeshore, among other things.

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