Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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DNR ruling is a victory for Sturgeon Bay advocates working to protect public land

Jan 04, 2019

Door County has more miles of shoreline than any other county in the country. The shoreline is cherished whether you have been in Door County for three generations or only three hours. It's a unique place where tourism, shipbuilding, art, agriculture, and water-based recreation drive its economy. Local citizens recognize that development on the peninsula must achieve a balance between economic growth and protection of the natural resources that make the area such a special place to live and to visit.

That’s why Midwest Environmental Advocates joined attorneys from Wheeler, Van Sickle & Anderson to represent Sturgeon Bay residents and Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront in an action against the City of Sturgeon Bay and its Waterfront Redevelopment Authority regarding the City’s proposed sale of Public Trust land. The city of Sturgeon Bay planned to sell the shorefront property to a developer for a private hotel. The proposed hotel project’s footprint would have included land that was submerged lakebed at the time of Wisconsin’s statehood, which means the state holds title to that lakebed under the Public Trust Doctrine.

After years of legal proceedings and tireless advocacy on the part of local citizens and the Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Waterfront, DNR issued a Declaratory Ruling on January 3rd establishing the exact location of the Ordinary High Water Mark. The location of the OHWM at the US Government 1835 Meander Line for Parcel 92 has the support of both the City Council and the Friends. The ordinary high water mark sets the boundary between public trust lakebed and shoreline that landowners are free to develop. Wisconsin’s constitution mandates that the State protect and preserve Public Trust Land for public use.

The Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront issued a press release on January 3rd calling the ruling "a victory for Sturgeon Bay, for Wisconsin and defenders of the Constitution everywhere." MEA commends the hard work and dedication of the Friends to protect public rights and to uphold the Public Trust Doctrine. 

Door County Pulse article and podcast discussing DNR's January 3rd ruling.