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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ind. Decisions - "Indiana shoreline jurisdiction dispute turns into 2-year legal battle"

Recall this ILB post (and the earlier linked entries) from Jan. 1st, headed "Court rules against Long Beach lakefront property owners" concerning a dispute between Lake Michigan beachfront property owners near Michigan City and the Town of Long Beach, over ownership of the "space between the water's edge and the ordinary high watermark (OHWM)."

It seems the same dispute has been going on further west along the Lake Michigan shoreline, in the Town of Dune Acres, which is on Lake Michigan just to the west of what natives of the area refer to as "Johnson's Beach" or "Porter Beach" and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which, as this story today in the Chicago Tribune, by Jennifer Delgado, reports:

Along Lake Michigan's southern shore, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's 15,000 acres surrounds a checkerboard of small beach communities.

But the borders that divide the towns and park don't mean much when it comes to the beach. Conflicting regulations exist on water scooters, beach fires and dogs without leashes, among other policies.

You'll need to read the whole story to totally understand the dispute that resulted in a bench trial in federal court, but this section relative to the OHWM gives an idea:
The National Lakeshore contended that the water scooter had been used within 300 feet of the shoreline, a violation of its rules. The rangers also said [Rob] Carstens had used the ATV below the ordinary high water mark, an area that falls within the park's boundaries. And signs aren't required for every park rule, they added.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources said it does not prohibit water scooters on Lake Michigan. If another agency issues a ticket, it would be up to a court to decide what entity has ultimate jurisdiction, a spokesman said.

The town has been around since 1923, long before Congress established the national park in 1966. It wasn't until years later that the park boundaries expanded beyond the land to include 300 feet into Lake Michigan.

The ordinary high water mark, an elevation line drawn by scientists, determines the edge of the lake where the federal agency begins governing. The water line has been below average for at least 10 years, according to the National Lakeshore, meaning Carstens could be standing on the beach in federal jurisdiction. * * *

After a one-day bench trial last July, a judge on Jan. 31 convicted Carstens. Lou Mellen, president of the Dune Acres Town Council, argued that the national park does not maintain the town's beach and the ruling sets a bad precedent.

"They're threatening to change the way we use the beach and treat us as if we're just visitors when in fact we live here. We consider this our beach," said Mellen, who noted that the national park does not own the Dune Acres beach.

About 9 miles east, the Beverly Shores beaches have the same rules as the National Lakeshore with a few exceptions.

"Occasionally" the town has a minor jurisdiction issue with the park service, like when a ranger spots a dog without a leash on the beach, said Geof Benson, the Town Council president. The two have different rules on the issue, he said. "But mostly it's been settled with a phone call or discussion, not a court," he said of differences.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 4, 2014 02:21 PM
Posted to Ind Fed D.Ct. Decisions