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State ownership, public recreational use of Lake Michigan shoreline codified in Indiana law

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Lake Michigan shoreline

The Lake Michigan shoreline in Portage. Beginning July 1, the Indiana Code explicitly will declare the shoreline of Lake Michigan up to the ordinary high-water mark is, and always has been, owned by the state

Gov. Eric Holcomb has enshrined in state law a landmark Indiana Supreme Court decision certifying state ownership and guaranteeing public recreational use of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

On Saturday, the Republican chief executive signed his approval of House Enrolled Act 1385, inserting the core holdings of the high court's 2018 Gunderson v. State ruling in Indiana statutes.

As a result, beginning July 1, the Indiana Code explicitly will declare the shoreline of Lake Michigan up to the ordinary high-water mark is, and always has been, owned by the state.

Indiana law set to affirm state ownership, guarantee public use of Lake Michigan shoreline

That mark is defined as the line on the shore established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics, such as a clear and natural line on the bank, shelving or changes in the soil's character.

The new law confirms Hoosiers have a right to use the shoreline for walking, fishing, boating, swimming and any other recreational purpose for which Lake Michigan ordinarily is used, and adjacent private property owners are not entitled to exclusive use of the beach or the water.

"The state of Indiana owns the beaches along Lake Michigan, and the public has a right to recreation along the beach," said state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. "I count this as a big win for the Lake Michigan shoreline."

The law also mandates local governments, in an emergency situation, must approve or reject permits for seawall repairs, or new seawalls, within 10 days — otherwise, the permit automatically is approved.

Lawmakers affirm public's right to recreational use of Lake Michigan shoreline

In addition, the statute provides civil immunity to lake-adjacent property owners, in most circumstances, if the public cuts across their properties to access the state-owned portion of the shoreline.

The measure was approved 78-15 in the House, and 36-13 by the Senate.

Many senators and representatives opposing the law said they favored the Gundersons and other lake-adjacent property owners in Long Beach in their repeated unsuccessful efforts to carve out private beaches along Lake Michigan.

A similar legal claim by three Porter homeowners seeking to gain exclusive authority over a Lake Michigan beach, or payment for it being taken away from them, currently is pending at the federal court in Hammond.

State lawmakers drop efforts to regulate Lake Michigan shoreline, for now

A ruling is expected soon on Indiana's motion to dismiss that lawsuit based on the state's argument the Porter residents never owned the shoreline below the ordinary high-water mark, no matter what their deeds suggest, and they, therefore, are not entitled to any compensation for "losing" property that Gunderson made clear Indiana has held title to since statehood in 1816.

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