WHOSE WATER IS IT, ANYWAY?
The real truth in responding to such a question about the body or corpus of Geneva Lake is: Nobody. There is no ownership assigned to the lake. There is access to the water. There are piers extending out into the water. There are buoys floating around allowing for more access (and in fact does not owning a pier or buoy mean that the water space in or around it is not owned, at least for the thawed part of the year?). There is fronting on the lake with property ownership extending right up to the edge of it.
Many people pay millions of dollars to enjoy owning the property that extends right up to the edge of Geneva Lake. Ordinances exist in all the communities surrounding the lake. Those ordinances regulate things like the speed of boats on the lake, no wake areas, how much cover a boat slip may have, how long piers are allowed to be and more. All of these ordinances are enforced by various police-power agencies around the lake. Almost none of the ordinances would stand up to a court of appeals that might even go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if challenged. The ordinances are not challenged, however. The punishments for violations are too minuscule compared to the money it takes to begin and then proceed with the appeals process in the U.S. court system. Disputes between waterfront property owners and those who attempt to gain waterfront rights without really having the waterfront property are many and varied in their application. Tina Trahan (last week’s “Angel of the Morning”) is engaged in one of those lawsuits right now.
In the matter of Stone Manor. Tina Trahan and the condominium association of Stone Manor (of which she owns 91%) have filed suit in Walworth County against her neighbors located to the south of the Stone Manor property. Actually, the lawsuit is about the purported misinterpretation the neighbors are using to take advantage of an old easement issued back in 1973 when the property of Stone Manor was sold. That easement allowed for a ten-foot-wide road or track to be allowed down the south side of the property to the lake. At the lake, there was supposed to be one buoy for a boat, one boat lift on land there, and then made allowance for one small rowboat to be left on the shore. The current inherited owners of the Hinton property (the plot to the south) has slowly modified what they have felt the easement truly entitled. In other words; they built a big pier. They built it a few years back.
Part of their argument appears to have something to do with adverse possession. Since nobody caught the fact that they allegedly violated the terms of the easement, they should be allowed to keep the pier. This is the kind of stuff that goes on all around the lake all the time. Tina Trahan wasn’t expecting this kind of behavior from her neighbor. The easement is quite clear, quoted in her lawsuit: “…retains the right to maintain either an existing boat buoy in the lake in front of the above described easement or a boat lift station on the shore of Lake Geneva at lake end of easement and to store a small rowboat on the shore of Lake Geneva at the lake end of the easement.”
Tina and the association at Stone Manor want the pier gone. Adverse possession is not likely to apply in this situation because of the existence of a clearly stated easement agreed upon years ago. Once again, this wonderful woman, sweeping in and beginning the buying of the Manor in 2016, and now saving it by putting millions into rebuilding and decorating, is spot on in her pursuit of excellence, justice, and the American Way. For the Walworth court system, the City of Lake Geneva, and the other communities around the lake not to support this monumental and heroic effort (not to forget the millions of dollars) is to spite the nose on their own faces. Trahan is correct again and needs the support of the entire community.