This is a follow-up to our August 2017 Environmental Law Update entitled “Louisiana Legislature Taps Sea Grant to Find Common Ground in Public Access to Waterways Controversy.” After weeks of staring at our inbox, the much anticipated Louisiana Sea Grant response to H.R. 178 has been released for public view. Read the full report here.
Although there have been years of conversation about this issue on the water and in the courtroom, this report seems to mark the beginning of an important legislative conversation. It is impossible to know whether the legislature will take decisive action on the public access issue, but a vigorous debate is unavoidable. As the report states:
The challenge of increasing recreational opportunities in Louisiana is complicated by a variety of complex factors that are unique to the state’s coastal zone. The region’s unparalleled crisis of coastal land loss has been the principal driver of an escalating aquatic access conflict, primarily between private landowners and recreational fishermen. In responding to the land loss crisis, landowners have attempted to secure their economic interests through the expansion of new and existing strategies for generating surface lease revenues, reiterating property boundaries, and limiting liability. Such strategies have resulted in a growing number of negative encounters with recreational fishermen, due primarily to historical expectations of access and new disputes over waterways perceived to be in the public domain. This conflict has been further exacerbated by advancements in vessel draft technology, changes in land posting requirements, and digital mapping efforts that have struggled to keep pace with a rapidly changing physical and legal landscape.
In over 60 pages of analysis and support, Louisiana Sea Grant is careful to shy away from taking a strong opinion on any particular contractual or legislative solution to public access disputes. Instead, the report outlines 10 options for the Legislature and the public to consider when addressing this hot button issue. Those options are:
The Sea Grant Report does a good job of identifying the many conflicts and positions of the various stakeholders. It also lays a helpful framework for the Legislature, landowners and recreational anglers to better understand the underlying legal issues permeating through this issue. Whether this Report marks a break from the status quo is still to be told.