Legislation that secures the public’s right to access Lake Michigan beaches in front of private property is back on the table. Lawmakers snuck in language from a bill that failed earlier this session. Both houses agreed to send it to Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk on Wednesday.
The language in the bill aligns with a 2018 Indiana Supreme Court decision that says the public has a right to use Lake Michigan beaches up to where the high water mark usually hits the sand. It also defines what kinds of activities are allowed there — like walking and swimming. Attorney Patricia Sharkey represented the Long Beach Community Alliance in court.
“It’s a great victory for the public and we sincerely hope that this ends the controversies,” she says.
Sharkey says small towns in northwest Indiana have had to fight every year with lakeshore residents who refuse to accept the state supreme court decision.
The bill also allows homeowners on the lake dealing with erosion issues to repair a seawall on their property or build a new one in the case of an emergency. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) praised the measure.
"The situation along the Lake Michigan shoreline right now is heartbreaking," she says in an email statement. "As it stands now, we are one big storm away from houses, property and utilities from falling into the lake. This bill is a first step in providing a little relief to the dire situation along the lakefront."
Sharkey says this part of the bill could be dangerous as seawalls can erode properties on either side of them, including public beaches.
We couldn’t reach a lakefront property owner in time for comment.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.