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Where can you walk on Lake Michigan beach? It depends on what state you are in.

When Ray Cahnman bought a beachfront home in Porter, Ind., A decade ago, he saw it as a place to escape the bustle of Chicago, where he could just sit back and watch the waves of Lake Michigan rise.

However, on many idyllic summer days, Cahnman noticed that he was looking for a position with many beachgoers that flowed from nearby Indiana Dunes National Park. Last summer, Cahnman said he was dealing with dozens of strangers who camped in front of his house, loud music, barbecues, and trash.

When the Lincoln Park resident bought the beach cabin and 10 plots of land for $ 1.25 million, Cahnman said he understood that his property rights extended to the water's edge. But after a recent court ruling, he and other real estate owners learn that they don't own as much as they thought.

With over 10,000 miles of coastline, the states of the Great Lakes are ruled by a patchwork of regulations. The confusion about where the public has access to the beach for private ownership and what they can do there extends to the region.

In general, all parties agree that every coastline that is submerged is owned by the state and accessible to the public. But each state differs from where the public is entitled to walk, ranging from & # 39; keep your feet wet & # 39; policy up to the natural high-water mark, where multi-waves have noticeably left an impression on the coastline.

Illinois has one of the strongest ownership rules for private ownership. Here private property on Lake Michigan ends on the edge of "water in a still state." The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says members of the public have the right to walk along the coast when their feet are in the water.

A ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court last year established the state of Hoosier as one of the most generous states of the Great Lakes when it comes to public access. Last month, the US Supreme Court refused to participate, so the ruling remained in place.

Indiana may have inherited the smallest part of the lake shore at the state level, but it is one of the few states of the Great Lakes that according to the law owner still does not own the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Unless the state approves laws, the state Supreme Court ruling means that Indiana remains the owner of the shoreline up to the natural high water mark.

Fantastic win or expensive land grab?

Conservationists welcomed the decision as a legal victory that not only flattened off the privatization of a 45-mile stretch along Lake Michigan, but also allowed beach-goers to walk at least to the natural high-water line. A new state law could extend these rights to fishing, sunbathing and even playing volleyball for the private site on the lake.

"The ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court was a fantastic victory for the people of Indiana because it means that anyone who wants to walk along Lake Michigan can do so with freedom and without worrying about anything illegal," said Joel Brammeier. president of the non-profit Great Lakes Alliance.

"The universal truth here is that everyone is entitled to a certain level of recreational access on the shore of the lake, whether you are next to private or public property," he said. "This varies from state to state. But there is a baseline obligation that those coastal areas will be protected for the people of every state."

Beach owners, such as Cahnman, see the ruling of the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional and costly land grab.

"They actually take my country – which is worth a lot of money – without compensation," Cahnman said.

"The state of Indiana says: & # 39; Okay, you are the owner, but the public can do whatever they want, & # 39; & # 39; Cahnman continued." It's like having a house, but everyone can play on your front yard. Well, what's the point of having it? & # 39;

Indiana lawmakers are also pushing back.

Conservationists fear that another legislative proposal in the legislature could overturn the ruling of the state supreme court and define the "ordinary high water line" as 581.5 feet above sea level, a 1985 benchmark set by the federal government. The federal reference point was a year before Lake Michigan reached a record high of 582.4 feet. The normal high water mark will be updated every 25 to 35 years and will be adjusted next year based on new surveys.

Proponents of the law say that this will not affect public access, with the emphasis that the state only falls back on the height if the natural high water mark is not easily distinguishable.

But legal experts say the language of the bill is ambiguous and that a specific level is unlikely to resolve disputes over coastal ownership.

"Nobody knows where that is (581.5 feet level) unless they have an altimeter or you call the DNR office to have them put a post in the ground," said Patricia Sharkey, a Chicago lawyer at the Environmental Law Counsel.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that the water levels in Lake Michigan have shifted dramatically in recent years and reached a record height of 576 feet in 2013 and are currently just one foot from the record level.

"When it is high, it becomes more of a problem because private owners are worried about the loss of their land, and it may be harder for the public to find a passage through these protected areas," said Brammeier. "If the water is almost empty, it is much easier to re-create, but you can still face conflict. Anyway, the state's obligation to protect this country from the public is always there."

Patchwork requirements

While certain states have given up ownership of the coastline to individuals, the public always has access to the water.

In Michigan, the coastline extends to the water's edge, but private beaches are treated as passages, with foot traffic allowed up to the natural high water mark.

In Wisconsin, however, private ownership stops at the natural high water mark and the state owns the land below this threshold. But beach owners have exclusive rights on the water's edge, and the Department of Natural Resources maintains a "keep your feet wet" policy for people walking on private beaches.

The Department of Natural Resources of Illinois says ownership and public right of way are shared by the water's edge, although conservation groups have been claiming for years that the public has the right to walk to the natural high-water line.

For some, the subject can be a questionable point, as there are more than 50 public beaches along the 63-mile coastline of Illinois. In the northern suburbs of Chicago, however, the coastline is a mosaic of public beaches along large-scale estates and these lines can fade more easily.

Jeff Smith, former general counsel for the Department of Natural Resources of Illinois under Government Pat Quinn, said he is a party for conservationists.

"With the & # 39; foot law & # 39; rule, I suppose the French explorers would not have been able to drag their canoes across the shoreline," Smith joked about 18th-century expeditions in Illinois. "It really makes no sense to keep it. Human beings are not aquatic beings.

"Borders and boundaries are where disputes occur and where laws are made," he said. "Nations are going to make war over it, neighbors are going to make war over it."

& # 39; A lawsuit is waiting to happen & # 39;

Over the years, lawyers say they've heard complaints about an unnamed beach for an Edgewater condominium.

In online listings it is advertised that the condo has a private beach. The coastline is fenced with a sign with the text & # 39; No Trespassing & # 39 ;. In recent years, members of the public have been kicked from the beach in what a Chicago lawyer has described as & # 39; a lawsuit awaiting the future & # 39 ;.

Regarding beach access at the Edgewater condominium, spokesman Ed Cross from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said that "the public would have the right to use Lake Michigan as long as they are in the water."

The division could not immediately confirm its policy on the barriers to the lake.

Smith said that barriers that block access to the coastline are being rejected and it would almost certainly require the agency's approval.

"You can't set up a fence that infringes on public trust rights or someone who descends to the water's edge or beyond without the permission of the DNR," said Smith. "The coastline is changing, so you can't allow people to start shielding things and claiming a beach every time you have a layer low. To be consistent, you would fence every time it comes up take away. "

Part of the reason why the beach access guidelines of Illinois have remained ambiguous is because no important statement has been made since 1990 about the doctrine of public trust in Illinois, when a dispute over the attempt by the University of Loyola to settle in Lake Michigan building went to court and the American district Judge Marvin Aspen ruled against the expansion of the lake at the private university, say that the bottom of the lake was part of the & # 39; public trust & # 39 ;.

Legal challenges with reference to the doctrine of public confidence, an age-old principle that addresses the scope of public access to the coast, also motivated filmmaker George Lucas to relocate his museum from namesake to California and plan for the Obama presidential center complicate.

Often these disputes are unresolved, sometimes for more than a century, until parties appear before a judge. Despite 200 years of state, Illinois has still not seen a case that has clarified the degree of public access to the level that the Great Lakes neighbors have.

Last year, the first brouhaha that reached the supreme court of Indiana finally ended the debate in the state of Hoosier.

As the owner of the beach, Cahnman said he has no problem with the public walking on the shoreline in front of his house. He even expected it.

Before Cahnman bought the property, the previous owner, along with other Porter owners on the lake, had been approached by the National Park Service and managed to grant walking rights to the public.

For Cahnman, his objection lies with the countless other recreational activities that can take place on the beach in front of his house. On a beach, he said he pays taxes. A beach, neither the state nor federal officials have helped clean up as soon as tourists pack. A beach that the court says is now owned by the state of Indiana.

"I know my property is mine," Cahnman said. "If they want to buy my property, there is something in the constitution that allows them. It is called an eminent domain. & # 39;


Twitter @_tonybriscoe


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