100-year-old law could slow flow of riverfront development

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) A 100-year-old-law could cause issues as riverfront development continues along the St. Marys River.

“The big conversation is revitalizing our rivers. The magic to that is getting people on the rivers,” Exec. Dir. Dan Wire, of the Tri-State Watershed Alliance said. “As we try to get people on the rivers, we need to make access points, which now brings us to the story today.”

Dan Wire, Exec. Dir. of Tri-State Watershed Alliance, helps a kayaker into the St. Marys River.

Developers and business owners with goals of improving the riverfront now face potential issues stemming from the old law.

“As we want to increase access points, the legal determination of the river: is it navigable or non-navigable, makes it either easier or harder do develop these access points for citizens to get on the rivers,” Wire explained.

The St. Marys river was labeled “non-navigable” because it wasn’t used much for commerce when the designation was made. It was more important to the people living along the waterway, instead of passing through, such as farmers who wanted to clear their area of log jams.

Demolition of buildings continues along the St. Marys River as viewed from Fort Wayne Outfitters.

Today, the Department of Natural Resources won’t help build ramps, if a river has the “non-navigable” designation, which may require an act of congress to change.

“This is an example of archaic laws made however many years ago and just need updated,” Tim Hall, owner of Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot said.

The staff at Fort Wayne Outfitters rent kayaks to be used along the river and currently, if a kayaker comes to a stop along the waterway, he or she is trespassing on a property.

“We’ve been operating for 10 years now and haven’t really had an issue, but as more and more traffic gets on the St. Marys River, we want people to be able to enjoy it and not worry about being cited for stepping on someones property,” Hall added.