David Hoppe

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:: Weird dreams along Lake Michigan

by David Hoppe

Imagine you’re having a dream. You look out your window and the view is beautiful. What’s more, a little voice keeps whispering in your ear: “It’s yours, all yours.”

As dreams go, this is pretty nice. It’s enough to make you want to sleep late.

The trouble is, everybody wakes up sometime.

It seems some folks who own property along the Lake Michigan shore in Northwest Indiana have been dreaming. They dreamt that when they looked out their windows, everything they saw, from their back doors, to the water’s edge — and everything in between — belonged to them.

Never mind that they didn’t pay property taxes on this land. Hey, they were dreaming!

Never mind that they never bothered to check into whether, perhaps, this land might belong to the State of Indiana. This, remember, was a dream.

The wake-up call came in the form of a ruling by Judge Richard Stalbrink of the LaPorte County Superior Court on July 24. “It is adjudged and decreed,” wrote Judge Stalbrink, “that the State holds the shores of Lake Michigan below the ordinary high water mark…in trust for the public, regardless of whether the land is currently covered by water.”

Not only that, the Judge wrote that the northern boundary of the private property in question ran along a line called Section 15 — a line markedly above the water’s edge.

The reason Judge Stalbrink made this ruling was because a group of these property owners didn’t want to stop their dreaming. They brought suit against the State of Indiana, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and an alliance of community and environmental groups.

In other words, they picked this fight.

They acted as if something was being taken from them that was never theirs to begin with.

They were dreaming.

But now that they’re awake, they’re as grumpy as can be. They published a two-page ad in a local paper, claiming that towns planned as “resident focused beach communities” will be driven out of existence, “granting universal public ownership of large portions of the beach to the entire public.”

The ad, sponsored by a group calling itself Stewards of Our Shores, alleges “There are designs in motion at the state level that intend to create a ‘destination’ for non-residents to our beaches.” It claims concession stands and commercial buildings will be built; that signage is in the works promoting the beaches and (gasp) that there will be “bus activity from Michigan City and elsewhere to the lake.”

Next thing you know, we’ll be forced to celebrate Kwanzaa and Dia de los Muertes.

This nightmare scenario is, of course, also a kind of dream. What the so-called Stewards fail to recognize is that Michigan City already enjoys an embarrassment of riches with its broad and well-maintained public beach.

That someone would want to board a shuttle bus and go to Long Beach, for example, where rising lake levels and the fecklessness of private property owners and town managers has created not just narrow beaches, but stretches cluttered with all manner of sun’n’fun bric-a-brac, corrugated steel and concrete sea walls, NO TRESPASSING signs, bull-dozed foredunes, and the occasional leaking drainage pipe…well, you must be dreaming.

What the Stewards fail to mention is that the lack of stewardship by private property owners along the beach helps account for the grassroots community support that spurred resistance to private ownership claims in the first place. The rampant development of large-scale houses and the installation of septic systems on the beach, as well as the aforementioned demolition of picturesque foredunes (otherwise known as Nature’s levees) seems an odd kind of stewardship.

But then, in dreams, anything goes.