A reader in the Lake Martin dot com forum posed this question:
Is there a shoreline zone owned by Alabama Power from the 491 level of Lake Martin to the start of private ownership? This is the case with some reservoirs. If so, what is the distance?
There were some good answers in the thread, and I thought I would throw in a word or two here. A copy of my answer is below, I thought Lake Martin Voice blog readers might be interested:
Watch your real estate definitions.
Easement – a granted right of one party to another, different from ownership. Like if you owned a 100 acre plot of land that has a power line going through it, you own the dirt, but the power company has been granted an easement to put a power line across it. A Lake Martin example would be where Alabama Power owns the dirt of the floor of the lake, but they give you an easement to build a dock over it, subject to their restrictions.
Setback – a rule that says even though you own the dirt, you can’t build / alter it in a specified zone. The 30 foot rule on most of Lake Martin’s shoreline is a setback. Alabama Power (in a deeded lot, more than likely) doesn’t own the dirt, they just tell you (via deed restrictions) that you can’t build NEW CONSTRUCTION in this zone. Same deal with lot lines with your neighbor, perhaps enforced by the county or your subdivision. Again, you own the dirt, but are deed restricted (via the deed, set forth in conditions that you agreed to when you bought it) by this.
Shoreline – just because the water on Lake Martin is there doesn’t mean you necessarily own up to it. I have seen all sorts of things here. Sometimes you are in a subdivision that describes the lot as “lot x in the recorded plat of Y neighborhood” which means you then go to the plat at the courthouse (Tallapoosa, Elmore, or Coosa) to figure it out. Also I have seen “metes and bounds” descriptions where someone has gotten a surveyor to plot the shoreline, foot by foot, turn by turn. Also I have seen really old ones that just describe the shoreline side of the lot in such juicily ambiguous terms as the “shore of Lake Martin.”
The key here is that every lot on Lake Martin COULD be different. I have also seen lots that are so old or oddly recorded that the above easement and setback rules don’t apply.
Bottom line – ALWAYS get a professional (lawyer or closing agent) to do a very thorough deed / title search to know EXACTLY what you are getting when you buy. Get a survey, too. Before you build or alter anything, this will give you a good understanding of what the deal is. On Lake Martin the dirt is the most expensive thing, usually, so it pays to be sure about the dirt and the associated easements, setbacks, and other restrictions.