MICHIGAN CITY | Some Lake Michigan lakefront property owners have lost another battle in a bid to claim exclusive ownership of beach right up to the water's edge.
But the Long Beach Lakeshore Homeowners Association plans to appeal the decision.
The July 24 ruling by LaPorte Superior Court 2 Judge Richard Stalbrink preserves the strip away from the water's edge for public use.
Specifically, he ruled the area north of the ordinary high water mark as set by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers is owned by the state.
The LBLHA contends, though, that under the deeds the property lines run up to the water's edge ''without any public rights boundary.''
Similar to previous rulings by La Porte Circuit Court Judge Tom Alevizos, Stalbrink cited a federal case that stated ''the beach area between the (OHWM) and the edge of the water is public land and not owned by any person, entity or municipality."
Stalbrink also ruled the state owns the strip below the (OHWM) regardless if that area is covered by water and indicated it doesn't make sense that Indiana with just 45 miles of shoreline would not designate an area for public use along its entire stretch of lakefront.
"Moreover, this court finds the idea that Indiana, with such a limited amount of shoreline, would restrict and in effect deny its citizens access to such an amazing natural resource, granting near exclusive rights to a vast portion of the shoreline to a select few homeowners, to be a far stretch of reason and common sense," he said in his ruling.
The landowners filed the lawsuit over the town of Long Beach designating a public use area on land adjoining their properties.
The legal action also sought compensation from the town on allegations of land grabbing.
Alevizos in his decisions in 2013 and 2014 also cited prior rulings in other courts dating back to the 1800s that beach from the water's edge to the ordinary high water mark was state owned property.
Therefore, he said the town in no way took or stole anyone's land.
The appellate court overturned those decisions and sent the case back to the local courts for another look prior to Stalbrink's decision.
Don Gunderson, a member of the Long Beach Lakeshore Homeowners Association, and other land owners complain the peace and enjoyment of their properties suffers from the noise and litter the public leaves behind.
"We've been here for over 50 years and it's a continuous problem," Gunderson said.
Some lakefront residents have also complained about warnings from law enforcement not to drink due to a policy against alcoholic beverages on public lands when they're having a beer or some other adult beverage on land they believe to be their own.
The decision by Stalbrink was hailed by the Long Beach Community Alliance, an all-volunteer group working to preserve public access to the beach in the upscale town.
"We are fighting for our children and grandchildren, and for generations beyond, to be able to use the beach as we have since Long Beach was founded in the 1920s,” said Patrick Cannon, a LBCA board member.
Save the Dunes, another defendant in the lawsuit, also expressed delight with the decision, calling it a win for the public.
"The public's longstanding historic right to freely enjoy the lakefront in Long Beach should simply never be gutted for private interests,"Save The Dunes Executive Director Nicole Barker said. "After all, Lake Michigan, our beaches, and our dunes are Indiana's greatest natural assets."
The Long Beach Lakeshore Homeowners Association this week released a statement saying it would appeal the decision.
"Judge Stalbrink further ruled that the public may swim, picnic, sunbathe and walk in this area along the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana," the group said in a statement released Wednesday. "The Court’s Order ignored the plain meaning of the law stated in the Submerged Land Act (43USC1301) and Judge Alevizos’ finding that the 'bed' of Lake Michigan is only the land covered by the water of the lake. The Court also ignored the rulings from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan regarding private ownership. The Plaintiffs are very disappointed in this flawed order and like he the last trial court order in December 2013, will seek a reversal and determination of their rights from the Indiana Court of Appeals."