GeoCarta Has Moved

Sep 1, 2005

When Nature Revises Maps

A Maryland lawsuit provides a timely reminder that what is depicted on a map or deed and the reality on the ground may be two different things. Laurese Katen and Larry Pusey are suing Mark and Doris Good contending that the Good's fence blocks access to their property. What makes this unusual is the property the Katen's are demanding access to lies under the Annemessex River. While we might question the wisdom of someone who purchased underwater lots, the issue is not unimportant since the property could become valuable riverfront property if filled in. However, the greater issue is the theory of navigable waters. When this country was settled, the rivers and streams that traverse it were avenues of commerce. Generally speaking, the government kept title to most of the rivers and streams and continues to hold title to this day. Not only does the government retain title to rivers but as those rivers erode more land away from their banks the government's property actually moves with it. Such is the contention in the Maryland case where the defendants are contending that title to the underwater lots actually belongs to the State of Maryland.

Similar principles apply to land bounded by the oceans and the gulf. As the tides wash away the earth, they are literally washing away people's land. When they are able to return, the residents of gulf front property may find that not only have their homes and businesses been severely damaged, but they may find that the size of their land has been diminished as well.