Long Beach Property Battle Reaches Indiana Supreme Court

Jun 28, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments in a legal battle playing out in Long Beach, on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It centers on a simple question: Who owns the beach?       

Don and Bobbie Gunderson filed a complaint in April 2014 that claimed their property extended to the water’s edge, wherever that is at any given moment.

The state of Indiana and the Long Beach Community Alliance are fighting that claim, though they disagree on where the Gundersons’ property ends and public property begins.

In December, an Indiana appeals court issued a ruling with four main parts:

  • The Lake Michigan shore is held in public trust by the state and “[a] private landowner cannot impair the protected rights of the public.”
  • Land below the Ordinary High Water Mark “…is open to limited public use, such as gaining access to the public waterway or walking along the beach….”
  • The Ordinary High Water Mark is the “line on the shore of a waterway established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics.” One example of these physical characteristics include the line where a sand beach ends and sand dunes with vegetation begin.
  •  The Gundersons’ northern property boundary extends to the ordinary low water mark. This means, the court says, that the Gundersons’ property rights “overlap” with the state’s property rights between the ordinary high and low water marks.

None of the parties were completely satisfied by the decision.

And Long Beach Community Alliance attorney Pat Sharkey says the appeals court decision still leaves an unresolved issue as to who can access the beach this summer.

“There’s arguments, you know, people out there who’re asking the police to come in and throw people off the beach right now,” says Sharkey, who’s particularly concerned about problems during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

Sharkey also says beach erosion is a problem in Long Beach.

“It’s worse,” than it was at when this case started Sharkey says. “Last year was really shocking how much erosion we’d had, how the lake has come up and eaten away at the dunes.”

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on September 28. Sharkey says a final decision isn’t likely until next year.