The state Senate has approved a lakes area lawmaker’s bill seeking to govern the use of road ends — the publicly-dedicated streets that terminate at the edge of navigable waterways.
Road ends are generally held to provide public access to the adjacent water for boating. However, there has been an ongoing battle about whether these public access rights include the ability to lawfully build a dock or install a boat hoist at road ends.
“People started putting up docks and using the area for everything but what it was actually intended — a site to back a boat into the lake and then a place to take it out at the end of the day,” said state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Milford, Highland, White Lake, West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Wixom, Walled Lake and Wolverine Lake), who has sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 778 to codify road end rules already handed down by state judges in a couple of court cases — Jacobs vs. Lyon Township in 1993 and Higgins Lake Property Owners Association (HPLOA) vs. Gerrish Township in 2003.
The Michigan Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Jacobs case states a land plat dedication allowed the installation of one non-exclusive dock at each road end leading to Higgins Lake, while the HPLOA case maintained that while one non-exclusive dock could be constructed, private docks were not permitted and sunbathing, picnicking, lounging, and permanent mooring of boats at road ends could be prohibited.
According to Kowall, SB 778 is simply “codifying” the rulings already handed down by judges.
“It clarifies what the publicly-owned property can be used for,” he said. “What perked my interest on (this issue) is that some people are taking public land and turning it into their own private little resorts. They were blocking (the public access) off from general use by the public.”
Under SB 778, boat hoists or docks can’t be constructed, installed, maintained or used at a public road end unless there is a recorded deed or easement that provided otherwise, according to the legislative analysis on the bill. The mooring or docking of a vessel between midnight and sunrise would also be prohibited, as would be any activity that obstructs entering or exiting the inland lake or stream through the road end.
A single seasonal public dock or wharf can be installed and used, provided it has been authorized by the local unit of government that has jurisdiction over the road end.
Violation of the bill’s provisions would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $500. Each 24-hour period of the offense would constitute a separate violation.
The bill was passed by the Senate earlier this month and has been forwarded to the state House of Representatives for consideration.