Shared from the 3/1/2019 Sandusky Register eEdition


Voters give Lake Erie rights


Waves from Lake Erie splash along the shore of Port Clinton on Nov. 20. The lake now has legal rights, but they’ve been challenged in court.

Register file photo/ ERIN CALDWELL


Voters in Toledo approved a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” as an amendment to the city charter, a measure aimed at giving the lake and its watershed legal rights that can be defended in court.

A local farm immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the measure as unlawful. The Ohio Farm Bureau vowed to support the lawsuit.

The measure was approved Tuesday after winning approval by 61 percent of the voters.

Toledoans for Safe Water said they were pleased to get the measure approved despite the opposition of special interest groups, such as industry and the farm lobby.

“It was definitely a long, hard struggle to get to this day, but all the hard work and countless volunteer hours by everyone in our local community group has paid off,” said Crystal Jankowski, an organizer with the group. “We started this more than two years ago and had to overcome election board decisions and protests in court just to get on the ballot.”

Backers described the law as the first of its kind in the U.S. and said it guarantees the right of Lake Erie to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.

“It is in accord with the larger Rights of Nature movement and philosophy which, over the past decade, has resulted in Ecuador’s 2008 constitutional acknowledgment of the rights of Mother Nature; New Zealand’s 2014 granting legal personhood to the Te Urewera forest; and India’s courts ruling in 2017 that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers have rights to exist, thrive, and evolve,” a news release states, which was issued by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit which helped draft the amendment.

The “Rights to Nature movement” is apparently seen by at least some farmers as an attack on private property rights.

Drewes Farms, a fivegeneration family farm in Custar, reacted to the vote by filing a lawsuit Wednesday morning in federal court in Toledo, seeking to have the measure struck down as illegal.

“The Charter Amendment is an unconstitutional and unlawful assault on the fundamental rights of family farms in the Lake Erie watershed – like the Drewes’ 5th generation family farm,” said Thomas Fusonie, one of the lawyers who filed the suit for the Drewes family. “The lawsuit seeks to protect the Drewes’ family farm from this unconstitutional assault.”

The lawsuit claims that the new law puts the farm at risk.

“The ability to properly fertilize its fields is crucial to the success of Drewes Farms’ farming operations. Drewes Farms’ fields are fertilized pursuant to Ohio law, best practices, scientific recommendations, and Drewes Farms has been recognized as a leader in implementing new methods to both reduce the amount of fertilizer used and to reduce runoff from its fields,” the lawsuit claims.

The farm cannot guarantee that it can prevent all runoff from its fields, the suit says.

“If Drewes Farms cannot fertilize its fields, it will be unable to survive economically. Drewes Farms soon must begin fertilizing its fields in March or April for this growing season,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary, 67. President George W. Bush nominated Zouhary to the post in 2005.

The Ohio Farm Bureau immediately said it backs the Drewes lawsuit.

“Mark’s farm is an example of the right way of doing things,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “We are proud that our member has stood up against this overreach, and his efforts will benefit all Farm Bureau members, farmers and protect jobs in Ohio.”

Mike Ferner, coordinator for Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, a Toledo activist group that supported the bill of rights, vowed to fight the lawsuit.

“For decades the U.S. and Ohio EPA have allowed corporate polluters, factory farm operators and others to use Lake Erie as a toilet for their waste. They have been getting away with murder but using our democratic rights as citizens, we will not allow them to kill our lake. We are examining the particulars of this challenge and with Toledoans for Safe Water, ACLE will respond to this and any other attack on our lake,” he said.

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