< Riparian and private rights

How does "public waters wetland" designation affect a property owner's rights to exclude others?

Bronczyk v. State of Minnesota, 1996 WL 706852 (Minn.App.)

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) designated Columbus Lake as a protected public waters wetland in 1982. In determining the boundary of a public waters wetland under Minn.Stat. 103G.005, subd. 14 (Supp. 1995), the DNR made preliminary findings setting the "ordinary high water level" of Columbus Lake at the boundary of the lake, adjacent to Anoka County Road 23. Plaintiffs, who own land covered by Columbus Lake, sued the DNR, fearing that such an intersection would give the public legal access to their property.

  1. The plaintiffs asked for a declaration, in the alternative, that:

  2. The ordinary high water level not be designated as the boundary of the Columbus Lake public waters wetland;

  3. They be allowed to exclude all members of the public from wetland types 1, 2, 6, and 7; and

  4. If the court does not find (1) or (2) above, then a taking has occurred because of the plaintiff's loss of their right to exclude the public.

The court held that, under Minn.Stat. 103G.205, subd. 14 (Supp. 1995), public waters designation did not affect the existing rights of access. Public waters designation neither grants additional rights of access to the general public nor does it diminish other property owners' existing riparian rights of access. As a result, such designation does not diminish the rights which owners have to exclude others.

Because the court found the plaintiffs' right to exclude unaffected by either the public waters wetlands designation or the exact boundaries of the lake, the court refused to address the issue of a taking. The court also stated that the exact boundary of the wetland is a regulatory issue, and that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all their administrative remedies, as required prior to judicial action.

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