Advance Notice: Briefs

Koch think tank leads legal push with big implications for Great Lakes

By: - December 4, 2018 6:02 am

Lake Michigan | Susan J. Demas

A conservative think tank founded and led by one of the Koch brothers is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on a case that could determine whether people have the right to walk along Great Lakes shorelines.

The Cato Institute presided over by Charles Koch, its board chairman and CEO — is leading a legal brief along with a group of Michigan property owners that asks the nation’s highest court to address the issue.

In the brief, Michigan property owners through a nonprofit called Save our Shoreline argue their property rights should extend to the water’s edge. The Whalesback Preservation Fund is also part of the nonprofit and owns more than 40 acres of Land in Leelanau County and nearly a quarter mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, according to the brief.

But at the center of the case are Indiana property owners Don and Bobbie Gunderson, who argue their lakefront property in Long Beach, Ind., extends past the water’s edge.

Together, they’re asking the U.S. Supreme court to weigh in on an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that the brief calls “contrary to historic understanding … ambiguous and unworkable.”

The case could impact Michigan shorelines, as well.

In 2005, Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, who led the Michigan Supreme Court from 2005 to 2009, wrote that walking along the shoreline is protected by state law, even when private property is nearby.

“Despite the competing legal theory offered by Justice (Stephen) Markman, our Court unanimously agrees that plaintiff does not interfere with defendants’ property rights when she walks within the area of the public trust,” Taylor wrote.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.