Friday, July 16, 2010

It’s residents vs. AG over property rights

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Lakeshore property owners are squaring off against Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

At issue is whether the state Attorney General’s Office has legal standing in bringing suit regarding public access to shoreline property along Lake Erie.

That includes property many owners say is theirs and thus is private.

The Ohio Supreme Court is being asked to render a decision on the matter.

This follows a decision by the 11th District Court of Appeals which said the attorney general has no standing in the matter.

That ruling pleased the Ohio Lakefront Property Group, but disappointed Cordray.

The state claims the public has the right to access shoreline property up to the high-water mark.

That position does not sit well with the Lakefront group, which claims the matter starts and stops at the water line.

“This case is not about public access or public rights to the waters of Lake Erie, all of which are secure and none of which are under attack,” Ohio Lakefront Group President Tony Yankel said.

“This case is about private property, and the unjust effort by the state to strip it away from thousands of Ohioans without compensation.”

Yankel charges that Cordray says he is attempting to protect the important resource of Lake Erie for the good of all.

“However, opening all of this privately held land along Lake Erie to uncontrolled public use — which means bonfires, litter and increased crime — will only harm Lake Erie, not protect it. The individuals who choose to live along Lake Erie have the strongest interest in protecting it, not bureaucrats in Columbus,” Yankel said.

Cordray’s brief before the Ohio Supreme Court discusses the legal authority and the traditional duty of the attorney general to defend the state of Ohio when it is sued, which dates back to the 19th century, Cordray says.

“The brief recognizes that private landowners have special rights that should not be unduly restricted by the state, but indicates that those rights should be balanced with the public’s overlapping rights in the territory of Lake Erie,” Cordray said.

Also filing amicus briefs were former Ohio Attorneys General Betty Montgomery, Jim Petro and Nancy Rogers. The former attorneys general outline in their briefs their agreement concerning the current attorney general’s authority and duty to represent the state of Ohio when it is sued.

Additional briefs were filed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the National Wildlife Federation and Ohio Environmental Council.

Additional amicus briefs were filed by the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania as well as by a coalition that includes several former directors of the ODNR and several conservation and sportsmen’s groups.