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Corey J. Hughes, P.S.
Riparian Bottomlands Apportionment & Boundary Consulting
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One of the more perceptive comments made regarding ownership of subaqueous lands was made almost one hundred years ago by a member of the Michigan Supreme Court. In a concurring opinion, Justice Campbell reflected as follows:
“In carrying out lines of ownership in narrow streams, it is easy to find the general course of the stream, and to draw lines perpendicular to that course from the terminal shorelines. But on lakes all lines from the shore tend to converge in some central part of the lake, and while irregularity of shape prevents drawing them to a common center, they must all, if protracted, cross each other in a perplexing way. The rule adopted in such waters, where the whole surface could be appropriated, has always been to divide the water area in proportion to the shore frontage, and never to attempt any division by lines run from the shore, except over such parts of the lake as are substantially adjacent to the shore. In some cases by a fair partition, a shore owner would, by his extent of shoreline, obtain a share beyond the center. But it seems impossible, a division without some proceeding in the nature of a partition, which will fix the various possessions."
Lincoln v. Davis, 53 Mich. 375, at 390, (1884). (emphasis supplied).
Despite almost a century of litigation regarding the rights of Riparian property owners in subaqueous lands, Justice Campbell's comments are still applicable. No Michigan Court has attempted to divide up an entire lakebed using the black-letter rules set forth in previous cases and text. The rules have been utilized to resolve isolated disputes between adjacent property owners as to their boundaries, but I know of no case to this date involving all of the riparian owners on a lake. Until such a case is taken before the Supreme Court, the ultimate question regarding division of submerged lands will remain unanswered.
The art of bottomlands distribution by the Professional Surveyor is at best subjective by nature, and can, at its worst, create a product wrought with controversy. The goal of the prudent surveyor attempting to prepare a bottomlands apportionment scheme is to be equitable to all of the upland owners.
The surveyor should be prepared to explain his or her presentation. Further, all computations and mapping prepared should represent the surveyor’s best professional opinion of a “fair and equitable” distribution of that particular bottomlands apportionment