Here along the North Coast of Lake Erie, some folks are fortunate enough to enjoy the features that come with living on the lakeshore. However, most people are largely unaware of the mechanism by which the State of Ohio controls and develops the lakeshore, including submerged land leases.
As described by the Ohio Division of Natural Resources, submerged land leases are agreements which the State of Ohio authorizes (and controls) the development or improvement of Lake Erie. The water in Lake Erie, the resources living in the water, and the lands beneath the water are all held in trust by the State for the benefit of its citizens. The State of Ohio allows the lakeshore and the lake to be used and developed for the benefit of its citizens via submerged land leases.
Submerged land leases can be required for construction of docks, marinas, or boat ramps (among other things). Application for approval of the project must be made to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Submerged land leases are traditionally valid for fifty years and renewable for an additional fifty years.
In a 2011 decision, the Ohio Supreme court determined that the “territory of Lake Erie held in trust by the State of Ohio for the people of Ohio extends to the ‘natural shoreline,’ which is the line at which the water usually stands free from disturbing causes.” State ex rel. Merrill v. Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources. This has been interpreted to mean that any person proposing to develop beyond the “natural shoreline” would be required to obtain a submerged land lease in order to complete the proposed project and pay the applicable fees. So if you’re considering any kind of development along the shore, involve the State early and secure fair terms to protect your rights and goals for your project.