Two bills in the Indiana General Assembly could affect public use of Lake Michigan beaches beyond Michigan City’s Washington Park, as seen Thursday. Staff photo by Santiago Flores
Two bills in the Indiana General Assembly could affect public use of Lake Michigan beaches beyond Michigan City’s Washington Park, as seen Thursday. Staff photo by Santiago Flores
Two very different bills have passed the Indiana Senate, now working their way through the House. One is cheered by city leaders along Lake Michigan’s coast and advocates who want to ensure free use of the lake’s beaches, even along private homes.

The other bill is drawing criticism from those same advocates, saying it strips rights beachgoers have held for decades. Critics say Senate Bill 581 would undo the rights granted by both the Indiana and the U.S. Supreme Court, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, responded Wednesday that it won’t.

Doriot doesn’t deny another key point in his bill that has also raised opposition: It would allow the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to govern sea walls and other barriers and beach grooming by private landowners, overruling the ordinances that coastal cities have set to protect the dunes. 

“I believe the DNR is the best agency equipped to do this,” he said, calling for “uniform regulations” rather than several local variations. He also noted the agency has biologists, botanists, staff and law enforcement to carry them out.

But the director of the group Save the Dunes, Natalie Johnson, said, “When you have local municipalities who are willing to go even further, why remove an extra safeguard?”

Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer argues it’s critical to keep beaches open and accessible to the public as they are such a magnet for visitors, growing the city’s population of 32,000 to almost 50,000 on a summer weekend.

“A lot of our economy is activated because of our access to Lake Michigan,” he said. “And it’s a nice natural resource.”

Copyright © 2019, South Bend Tribune