Lawmakers OK bill cementing landmark Lake Michigan ruling

Indiana lawmakers have passed legislation to embrace a landmark state Supreme Court decision affirming that the Lake Michigan shoreline is publicly owned and open to all for recreation.

The General Assembly gave its final approval Wednesday to the bill, which covers the core holdings of the court’s 2018 ruling, including that the shoreline is held in trust for use by all Indiana residents. The Supreme Court ruling is Gunderson et al. v. State of Indiana et al., 46S03-1706-PL-423.

House Bill 1385 confirms that Hoosiers have a right to use the shoreline for walking, fishing, boating, swimming and any other recreational purpose, and that adjacent private property owners are not entitled to exclusive use of the beach or the water, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

The bill explicitly declares that Indiana’s 45 miles of Lake Michigan shore is owned by the state up to the ordinary high-water mark, which is the shoreline created by water fluctuations. The bill now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The Indiana Supreme Court rejected a claim that deeds showing property lines running into the lake are valid. The United States Supreme Court last year declined to hear an appeal.

The legislation also includes a provision that could help Indiana communities deal with erosion during a time of high water along Lake Michigan. Local governments in an emergency situation must approve or reject permits for seawall work within 10 days. Otherwise, the permit automatically is approved.

“This bill is a first step in providing a little relief to the dire situation along the lakefront,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.

Separately, the town of Ogden Dunes last week has approved spending $150,000 for expert input and emergency repairs to protect homes from sliding into the water.

It could take up to $10 million to rebuild the seawall that is meant to protect homes on the east side of Ogden Dunes, according to Rodger Howell, who heads a beach protection committee.

In the meantime, officials and homeowners in the town about 25 miles southeast of Chicago are scrambling for a short-term relief. Residents of Ogden Dunes have already filed a federal lawsuit over its battle with shoreline erosion.

“Homes could actually suffer damage in the next storm or two,” said Howell. “Something’s going to fail really bad in the next storm or two.”

The action comes as Indiana communities along the Lake Michigan shore are dealing with threats to homes and infrastructure caused by record-high Great Lakes water levels.

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