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Indiana high court to rule on Lake Michigan beach ownership

Associated Press • Jul 4, 2017 at 11:00 AM

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court will decide who owns the land immediately adjacent to Lake Michigan.

Don and Bobbie Gunderson claim their land on Lake Michigan extends to the water's edge, meaning no one can access the beach by their house without permission, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.

The state said it owns the land in a trust for all residents up to the "ordinary high-water mark." The line is generally defined as the mark on the shore where the presence of water is continuous enough to distinguish it from land through erosion, vegetation changes or other characteristics.

The state was granted the land at statehood in 1816, said Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher. He said the state must control beach erosion, which it can't do effectively if nearby homeowners are allowed to claim the beach as their own.

The high court's order granting transfer of the case vacates a 2016 state Court of Appeals ruling that established an unprecedented property-sharing arrangement between the state and lakefront landowners. All parties involved with the case agreed the appellate court's decision was unsatisfactory and asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the matter independently.

Justices will receive written briefs and likely hear oral arguments later this year before issuing a decision, likely in 2018.

The decision will determine if visitors can walk, sunbathe and play on Lake Michigan beaches located between the water and privately owned properties next to the lake.

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