Attorney General: I balance everyone's right to Lake Erie shore

By RICHARD CORDRAY, Ohio Attorney General I am responding to Tony Yankel's recent opinion piece (Opinion page, April 17) about the Ohio Supreme Court case that will determine the precise boundaries of Lake Erie.
Commentary
May 5, 2010

By RICHARD CORDRAY, Ohio Attorney General

I am responding to Tony Yankel's recent opinion piece (Opinion page, April 17) about the Ohio Supreme Court case that will determine the precise boundaries of Lake Erie.

In 2004, Mr. Yankel's group of lakefront owners sued the State of Ohio, claiming that property owners along Lake Erie have absolute control down to "the ordinary low water mark," and thus can block all access to the beach. He views the issue solely from a property owner's perspective. As attorney general, I must consider his interests along with the public's right to enjoy the lake itself and the waterfront.

In defending this case, I believe the courts should reaffirm the special rights of lakefront owners, but preserve limited rights for the public to access the lakefront. Most Great Lakes states take the same approach.

Let me set the record straight on several statements by Mr. Yankel.

First, most Ohioans do not oppose a position that balances the limited rights of the public with the special rights of private owners. Most Ohioans are aware that they can access the lakefront only for limited purposes, such as landing a boat in distress or strolling the beachfront. They would be surprised to learn they could be entirely fenced out from accessing Lake Erie, which is a public resource owned by the people of Ohio.

Second, Mr. Yankel imagines that I, as attorney general, have sent people a bill for using land that they have "owned and paid taxes on for years." I have done no such thing and never will. I strongly disagree with a heavy-handed policy of forced leases as pursued by the Taft administration. In our court filings, we go out of our way to stake out a different approach, recognizing the special rights of lakefront owners that state officials must respect. But private owners also must recognize the public's rights to enjoy Lake Erie, including limited access to the lakefront.

Third, Mr. Yankel asserts that state ownership of Lake Erie never has extended beyond the water's edge. That is wrong, just as his claim that the proper boundary is the "low water mark" also is wrong. Moreover, our "ordinary high water mark" approach typically allows access only a few feet beyond the water's edge (not seventy feet, as he claims).

Fourth, Mr. Yankel paints a picture of me inviting "millions of people into the backyards of homeowners" who can "bring food, alcohol and even guns." This picture is not consistent with the limited rights of the public we are asking the court to uphold, or the special rights of lakefront owners that we are insisting state officials must respect.

Finally, Mr. Yankel seems offended that I am representing the ctate of Ohio -- whom he originally sued -- and arguing that the public has rights worth defending. All Ohioans, be they sportsmen or just folks who enjoy nature, have rights to use Lake Erie too. That is why I appealed this case to the Supreme Court, which should have the final say on whether private property owners can block all access to the lakefront. If Mr. Yankel felt otherwise, he never should have filed this lawsuit in the first place.