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Who owns Grand Lake? Answer may determine fate of boathouses

Jessica Smith
jsmith@skyhidailynews.co
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

Shoreline homeowners of Grand Lake received an invitation by letter from the Town of Grand Lake Board of Trustees to attend a “board workshop” regarding “shoreline issues” on Monday night, Aug. 13.

A crowd of more than 40 filled the Grand Lake Community House to listen to a presentation given by Town Attorney Scotty Krob. Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke opened the meeting.

“It’s very important to have input from citizens from our community,” she said, in regards to “serious concerns that we have over some of the lake issues.”

“We’re here to share with you new information,” said Town Manager David Hook. “We think this is information you need to hear. This is information we want you to hear. But we’re here to listen. … We’re in this together.”

The issues

The main issue at stake is a question of ownership – that of Grand Lake. More specifically, the ownership of the actual lakebed itself, upon which many shoreline owners have built (or are planning to build) boathouses and docks.

According to recent surveys, none of the shoreline properties have boundaries that extend into Grand Lake. The survey maps show the property lines ending at the edge of the water, therefore not including the lakebed beneath. This means that any structure, such as a dock or boathouse, built out into the lake is on different property.

“If it’s not on their [the homeowners’] property, whose property is it?” asked Krob.

After consulting the Bureau of Land Management and their official maps, it appeared that the property lines did indeed end at the shore. Eight property patents extend around the entire shoreline of Grand Lake, and none of them seem to extend into the lake itself. Any shoreline landowner today can link their property back to one of those eight patents, which were registered between 1887 and 1903.

“Nothing was ever patented as far as the lake itself,” said Krob. “It was never conveyed out of United States ownership. … All this area was part of United States property, which the United States patented out, but they didn’t patent out the lake. So the question is, who owns the lakebed?”

Possible answers

The answer to that question comes down to two concerns. The Equal Footing Doctrine refers to the matter of ownership of waterways between state and federal governments. According to the doctrine, all navigable waters belong to the state. The second issue concerns the definition of navigability.

“There are several Supreme Court decisions that talk about what constitutes navigability, but in essence it is: a body of water that is actually used for commerce, or is so situated that it could reasonably be expected to be used either in the past or in the future for commerce,” said Krob.

Based on this definition, it seems very likely that Grand Lake falls under the definition of “navigable,” and therefore belongs to the state of Colorado.

The state attorney general has been contacted in order to officially confirm whether this is the case. Currently the matter is still in review, and the town has not heard back regarding this issue. However, on the request of the attorney general, no new building permits will be allowed for the time being.

Additional issue

Further information came into view regarding the Sunnyside plat, which covers the northeastern area of Grand Lake. Not only do the property lines not extend into the lake, but there is also an 8-to-12 foot “gap” between the shoreline property boundaries, and the lake waters.

In addition to this easement, there are two “alleyways” running perpendicularly between the road and the shoreline that are not a part of any current property.

“Those parcels – those alleyways, and the strip along the lake – are not part of anyone’s deed,” said Krob.

Research into the issue indicates that the easement and the two alleyways may in fact be public property. This means that anyone building in that area not only builds onto state property in the lake, but over public property at the start of the lake.

Town officials have not yet made a decision as to how they will deal with this particular issue.

Questions and concerns

After the presentation, a question and answer session followed, to allow those present to speak. Many questions revolved around defining the specifics of the issue, and what further course of action would be taken.

Krob reiterated that the board had not yet made any decisions, pending the results from the attorney general’s investigation. Anyone with information or surveys contradicting the current findings is encouraged to bring them forward.

“I really encourage you, whatever documents you have that relate to this, if you’re willing to share, please do,” said Krob. “We really want to keep an open dialogue between the town, and certainly talk to anyone, with any information you have.

“This is something the board is taking very seriously,” said Mayor Burke at the conclusion of the meeting. “We’ll continue to try to do our job as best we can.”

Reactions

While some frustration was apparent, the tone of the meeting was essentially cordial and informative.

“It was interesting, to say the least,” said Greg Finch, who owns property on Grand Avenue, in the Sunnyside section of Grand Lake. This includes both a dock and boathouse.

Finch says he was aware of the alleyways connecting the lake and the road, but had no idea about the easement along the Sunnyside lakeshore.

“There’s no practical way to build a path along there,” he said, explaining that the water often touches along the base of steep tall rocks. “The town’s going to have to figure out what to do with that one.”

As for the lake ownership issue, Finch speculates as to whether the state will take a stronger role with the lake, and what that might entail, particularly in regards to issues of water quality.

“So the good side of any of this, if there is one,” said Finch, “if the state wants to assert its ownership of the lake, maybe it will pay more attention to the water clarity issue.”

“The owners on the lake would be happy to contribute something if the state would pay more attention to the water quality issue.”

At the moment, no steps have been taken in regard to any of the issues brought up in Monday night’s meeting.

Further research into the matter is ongoing.


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