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Submerged Land Leases on Lake Erie

Submerged Land Leases are agreements between property owners and the State of Ohio and were created to control and moderate structures being built on Lake Erie, and its overall development. The lease grants a private or public entity the special use of a portion of Public Trust (i.e. Lake Erie submerged lands). The public is compensated by a rental fee. This management system was implemented in 1992 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), after “the "Nonpoint source management program" means the management program for controlling pollution added from nonpoint sources to the waters of the state and improving the quality of such waters submitted by the governor to the U.S. environmental protection agency and approved November 21, 1989, in accordance with section 319 of the federal water quality act of 1987 and any federally approved amendments to the program adopted in accordance with section 6217 of the coastal zone act reauthorization amendments of 1990.”. This program was slow to take effect, with so many moving parts, and underwent a series of legal rulings and amendments throughout the 1990s, Clarification came in the form of several adoptions and guidelines on July 4th, 1999, and those remain in effect today.

Demex Marine Construction installing an armor stone revetment for erosion control on Lake erie
Demex Marine Construction Erosion Control

The projects that fall within the purview of this program are areas occupied by wharfs, docks, marinas, piers, boat ramps, seawalls, breakwaters, stone revetments, groins, jetties, water intakes, utility lines, and any other structures or artificially placed fill that extends lakeward of the natural shoreline. Basically, everything that falls under Marine Construction requires a Submerged Land Lease. The lease is extended to the applicant’s upland real property/parcel and is typically for a term of 50 years. While the lease isn’t expensive by any means, it does come with a fee. According to the Ohio Laws and Administrative Rules, The rental rate for any artificially filled area of the territory existing on March 15, 1989, which qualifies as a governmental non-income producing facility as determined by the director, shall be $1.00 per year.

(B) Private floating dock - $50 per year. (C) Private structure - $50 plus $0.02 per square foot of leased area per year. (D) Private erosion control structure - $50 plus $0.01 per square foot of leased area for the first year, and $0.01 per square foot of leased area per year thereafter.” The rental on the lease increases based on the annual rate of recession (how far back the natural shoreline has receded due to erosion). This is monitored by the Office of Coastal Management. In the summer of 2022, D. Mark Jones released a report on The Analyses of Lake Erie coastal Recession Measurements which really dug into the rate at which the shoreline is eroding in both areas where erosion protection is present and where it is not. This report concluded that the ODNR needed to find other means of measuring shoreline recession and erosion, which includes looking at slumping and retreating shorelines no matter their location on the bluff, as shown in the graphic from the report below. This could impact how Submerged Land Lease rental fees are calculated in the future, potentially increasing the cost to property owners.
Wave Erosion Cycle

Enforcement of the Submerged Land Lease program ultimately lands with the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, however, it is the responsibility of the county and/or municipality to ensure compliance, perform inspections, and ensure the leases are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies. The application for the Submerged Land Lease can be found on the ODNR’s website, there is no cost to apply, however, a professional surveyor is typically required to establish the property boundaries. A list of recommended surveyors can be found in the ODNR’s Coastal Guidance Packet, here.

Lakefront property owners can easily research if they have an existing Submerged Land Lease by using the Coastal Erosion Area (CEA) interactive map. Here you can see the historical recession data for your property, if there is a submerged land lease, when it was issued and for what structure, and other relevant information. If you’re selling your property, remember to disclose you have a submerged land lease, and ensure the property steps to transfer the assignment of the lease are taken.

Sample data map from the CEA GIS MAP.

Demex Marine Construction can assist its clients with the documentation needed to apply for a Submerged Land Lease as part of our construction management. Please contact for more information.

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