David Hoppe

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:: Pete Visclosky’s vision for Indiana’s shoreline

by David Hoppe

The older I get, the more life reminds me of high school. I spent a little time over the weekend with a bunch of (mainly) guys, neighbors of mine, building a boardwalk down to the beach where we live.

This was a volunteer activity, rather like our version of an old-fashion barn raising. It was spearheaded by a couple of fellows who actually knew what they were doing — the rest of us were content to follow their lead.

There was a lot of heavy lifting and good-natured banter. Apart from a certain amount of middle-aged thickening, it became easy to think that the only thing differentiating this collection of seasoned male specimens from their high school selves was a truly awesome array of power tools.

Our boardwalk is intended to provide people with easy access to the Lake Michigan shore. How much of this shoreline is actually available for public use has been an issue.

Generations ago, our town allowed people to build houses on the beach; some of the people who own those houses believe their property extends to the water’s edge. But many more of us, including the State of Indiana, believe otherwise. As far as we’re concerned, the beach is public property up to a line called the Ordinary High Water Mark.

The courts are going to sort this out.

In the meantime, though, the recognition that Indiana’s share of the Lake Michigan coastline is an invaluable state resource appears to be growing.

On the day before my neighbors assembled to build that boardwalk, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky came to Michigan City to speak at a regional economic development conference. Visclosky, a Democrat representing Lake, Porter and a sliver of LaPorte Counties, is the longest serving member of Indiana’s congressional delegation. First elected in 1985, he has, according to Wikipedia, only once won a general election with less than two-thirds of the vote.

Visclosky has been working to revitalize Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline through something called the Marquette Plan. So far this has meant reclaiming previously industrialized stretches that have gone to seed. Ultimately, it calls for reserving 75 percent of Indiana’s coastline, including land at a minimum of 200 feet from the shore, for public use.

Visclosky claims this program accomplishes two things: it cleans up our rust belt environment and improves the region’s overall quality of life.

This, you would think, would be applauded. But I heard some grousing about it among my neighbors by the boardwalk. A few of them see a land grab coming. They are concerned about their property rights.

Others see Visclosky’s vision as a potential enhancement of everybody’s property values. This represents a classic conflict between scarcity and abundance: Is the beach more valuable as private property, or as a public resource? Is freedom defined by what one person can purchase, or by what a larger community is able to share?

These questions cut to the quick of how we understand our life together. They are basic and raw — pretty much the way I remember it being in high school.