Indiana mulls law aiming to limit Lake Michigan beach access

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Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would undo a landmark Indiana Supreme Court ruling that affirmed that the shoreline of Lake Michigan is unquestionably owned by the state and held in trust for use by all residents.

Posted: Jan 21, 2020 10:13 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would undo a landmark Indiana Supreme Court ruling that affirmed that the shoreline of Lake Michigan is unquestionably owned by the state and held in trust for use by all residents.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Doug Miller, would give up the state's ownership of large swaths of Indiana’s lake shoreline to adjacent private property owners if the property description in their deeds indicates the land extends to Lake Michigan.

The Indiana House Committee on Judiciary recently heard testimony from residents, interest groups and legislators on the proposed measure.

Those who support the bill, most of whom said they own property in Long Beach, said they have no issues with people temporarily accessing the beach from their land. However, the interest groups and legislators that oppose the measure said it will prohibit public access to Northwest Indiana beaches.

In its 2018 ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court guaranteed public access to Lake Michigan beaches after dismissing a claim that deeds showing property lines running into the lake are valid. Indiana, upon becoming a state in 1816, obtained ownership of the shoreline to the ordinary high water mark, which is defined as the shoreline created by water fluctuations.

Sen. Karen Tallian reminded the committee that the Lake Michigan shore runs for 45 miles (72 kilometers) in Indiana “and half of that is in my district.” Tallian said the committee needs to remember that the measure will impact everyone along the shore.

“You have to be really careful what you do,” Tallian said.

Tallian said it is “sadly ironic” that the committee discussed the bill after she and Rep. Pat Boy sent a letter last week to Gov. Eric Holcomb asking him to declare a state of emergency for disaster funding to address beach erosion in Porter and LaPorte counties.

“We no longer have a beach in Northwest Indiana, is pretty much the case,” Tallian said. “We have a mess, and we’re going to be losing properties up there.”

The House Committee on Judiciary will discuss the bill again Jan. 27.

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