Lakefront group to governor: Match words with deeds

Gov. Ted Strickland was decisive when he proclaimed he would back landowners along Lake Erie in their property rights battle with th
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010


Gov. Ted Strickland was decisive when he proclaimed he would back landowners along Lake Erie in their property rights battle with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"I have concluded that the lakefront owners rightfully own the land as specified in their deeds," the governor said when he was the Democratic nominee. "Our country was founded on a profound respect for private property rights, and a Strickland/Fisher administration will ensure the state of Ohio continues to value the rights of property owners."

But state Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, one of the landowners' main backers, says he's spent months meeting with Strickland administration officials but hasn't been able to reach an agreement.

He's "disappointed" in the lack of progress but doesn't want to criticize Strickland yet.

"I'm still hopeful he's going to be a man of his word," Grendell said. "I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. There's a transition process."

The group Strickland made his campaign promise to, the Ohio Lakefront Group, says it's also waiting for the governor to match words with deeds.

A spokesman for the governor, Keith Dailey, insists Strickland hasn't backed off from his campaign stance.

"The governor has committed to standing firmly behind the homeowners," Dailey said.

"The governor and his staff are engaged in ongoing discussions," Dailey said. "The governor is looking for someway to bring both sides together and bring them to an agreement."

Dailey said he could not say how the two sides could be brought together, saying only, "that discussion is continuing."

Grendell, told of Dailey's comments, said the governor should simply uphold what he promised last year.

"If you stand with the homeowners, what do you need to have an agreement for?" he said.

Grendell said he's confused about whom Strickland is talking to.

"If you call Tony Yankel, he'll tell you there have been no discussions with anybody," Grendell said. "Are they in the room talking with each other? They are not talking to the Lakefront Group."

Tony Yankel, president of the Ohio Lakefront Group, said his group has been trying to meet with the governor and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher without success.

"At this point we're getting a little antsy," he said, noting that it's nearing time for the state to file replies in an ongoing lawsuit against ODNR.

Grendell told members of Erie County Republican Women last week that Strickland's administration had offered a compromise, offering to uphold property rights if landowners would agree to allow a 5-foot walking path giving members of the public access to beaches. Grendell said he rejected the proposal.

Dailey said no compromise offer has been made.

Yankel said the 5-foot path proposed the governor's office has been talked about before, and his members reject it.

"It's not really a compromise," he said. "We shouldn't have to allow people to have 5 foot of our property."

The Ohio Lakefront Group, which Yankel said has more than 6,000 members, has been battling for years with the ODNR in a lawsuit filed in Lake County and has been trying to advance its cause in the Ohio General Assembly.

The group says its property deeds give members ownership of beaches in their back yards, while the ODNR has contended that beaches from the water's edge to the ordinary high water mark is public land.

State Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, who has supported the Ohio Lakefront Group, says its members should try to be patient.

"The governor has been in office for 3 1/2 months," Redfern said. The group "should afford all of us a bit more patience in addressing this issue that has been smoldering for over 30 years."

An Aug. 23 article in the Register noted that both of the main candidates for governor, Strickland and Republican Ken Blackwell, had pledged their support to the Ohio Lakefront Group. The article noted that Gov. Bob Taft had not been an ally to the group, but that "if campaign promises can be believed" the group should fare better in 2007 when a new governor takes office.

Last year, Fisher affirmed the ticket's support for the Ohio Lakefront Group while he campaigned in Erie County and noted the position echoes a legal opinion Fisher wrote as attorney general.

Fisher said he and Strickland believe it's wrong "for the state to be infringing on the private property rights of landowners along the lake."