Great Lakes Shoreline Bill Poses Problems for Public Access

If you enjoy using the shoreline of the Great Lakes to walk, fish, swim, or any other activity, you may want to take notice. Those shores you walk may not be open to you under a bill being considered in the Senate Natural Resources committee.
Senate Bill 1052 (Sen. Tom Casperson, R–Escanaba) stems from a fight between some coastal land owners and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the requirement that the owners apply for a permit from the DEQ in order to mow, groom, and remove vegetation between the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) and the water’s edge. The bill would allow Great Lakes property owners the ability to groom their beach up to the water’s edge without getting a permit, and eliminates the law’s reference to the OHWM.
Past Michigan Supreme Court cases have held that any area of dry or wet land between the water’s edge and the OHWM are subject to the Public Trust Doctrine. As part of the Public Trust Doctrine, the public has the ability to use that area for accessing our four bordering Great Lakes. It does not mean you can set up camp and stay the night there, but using the shoreline for beach walking,  fishing access, and access for other recreation has always in the past been acceptable.
The problem for our beach walkers now under this bill is that by removing the OHWM and inserting language that allows the shore owner to “otherwise maintain” land above the water’s edge, the public could run the risk of being kicked off the shore by fences and barricades built right up to the water’s edge, or face harassment or trespassing threats from neighbors or owner’s if walkers are not walking in the water.
For a state that is branding itself as Pure Michigan and boasts access to the most freshwater coastline in the world, this is a chilling thought. For those of us who love accessing our Great Lakes to fish, hunt, walk, swim, or play, this is just bad news.
There is still time to make your voice heard. Call your State Senator today and ask them to protect the public’s right to enjoy our Great Lakes coastline!
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