Thousands of landowners living along the Lake Erie shore have won another battle in their property rights war with state environmental groups, setting the stage for a possible showdown in the Ohio Supreme Court.
The two sides have fought it out for years. On Monday, Ohio's 11th District Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 in the landowners' favor, ruling that beaches belong to the landowners who live next to the lake and aren't public land.
The court said the lake and the land beneath the waters belong to the public but public property stops at the water's edge.
"The water's edge provides a readily discernible boundary for both the public and littoral landowners," wrote Judge Colleen Mary O'Toole, the opinion's author.
Environmental groups such as the Ohio Environmental Council had argued that land below the lake's ordinary high water mark, where vegetation usually begins, is public land and that anyone should have the right to walk on it.
The decision may rest on sand, however, until the Ohio Supreme Court weighs in. Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said his group plans to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio's top court will likely finally resolve the issue because it's unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would accept an appeal, Shaner said.
The Court of Appeals ruling was a victory for the Ohio Lakefront Group, which says it represents thousands of homeowners who live along the shore of Lake Erie.
Tony Yankel, president of the group, said his members expected environmentalists to continue the fight.
Yankel said he agrees a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court likely will settle the issue. A federal judge already has ruled that the legal fight is a state issue, Yankel said.
Ohio's attorney general also took part in the case, siding with the environmentalists.
The court ruled, however, that the attorney general has no standing to participate. The court noted that Gov. Ted Strickland had sided with the landowners by ordering the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to get out of the case.