Maia E. Jerin


The State of Ohio holds all land underlying the waters of Lake Erie and navigable rivers, as well as all artificially filled land, in trust for the benefit of the people of Ohio. Traditionally, private use of trust resources was subject to the public rights of navigation, water commerce, and fishing. This principle, known as the public trust doctrine, exists in every state but takes myriad forms and protects widely varying uses and interests. Many states have clarified their public trust doctrines through statutes or judicial review in order to meet the public’s changing needs, but Ohio’s public trust doctrine remains nebulous. While Ohio’s legislature and courts have reviewed the state’s public trust doctrine in other ways, they have failed to clearly define how trust land can be used in harmony with the public’s inalienable and expanding rights. An overbroad interpretation of Ohio’s doctrine may lead to obliteration of the natural shoreline; a narrow interpretation may lead to ossification of the valuable resource. The question then becomes this: How can Ohio effectively protect the public’s right to the state’s water resources while promoting the highest and best use of the valuable shoreline? The needs are not mutually exclusive, but must be carefully balanced to avoid over- or under-utilization, to protect the environment, and to encourage a robust economy.