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Friday, February 28, 2020

Lake Erie Bill of Rights Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 8:52 AM

click to enlarge KEN LUND/FLICKR
  • Ken Lund/Flickr

As first reported by ace environment reporter Tom Henry of the Toledo Blade, U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary yesterday decalred the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, passed by a majority of Toledo voters in early 2019, as unconstitutional, ruling in favor of the agricultural group that sued the day after the Feb. 26, 2019 vote.

The referendum, led by environmental activists, sought to establish Lake Erie's rights as an ecosystem and allow Toledo citizens to file lawsuits on its behalf.

“Frustrated by the status quo, LEBOR supporters knocked on doors, engaged their fellow citizens, and used the democratic process to pursue a well-intentioned goal: the protection of Lake Erie," the judge wrote in his decision. "As written, however, LEBOR fails to achieve that goal. This is not a close call. LEBOR is unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio. It is therefore invalid in its entirety." He also noted that the measure “under even the most forgiving standard, the environmental rights identified in LEBOR are void for vagueness.”

Watching the continued algal blooms on Lake Erie, including the severe one in 2014 that led Toledo to declare a three-day ban on water usage, and watching the state of Ohio struggle to curtail and regulate agricultural runoff that contributes to the blooms, activists led the ballot referendum to claw back some power over the lake.

The referendum, once passed, was added to Toledo's city charter, and the state's lawyers, which joined the lawsuit on the side of the agricultural groups, argued that it would give more power to the city than the state over water the state technically owns. The environmental groups petitioned to join the lawsuit on the side of Toledo, but a judge rejected their argument.

One of those activists, Markie Miller of Toledoans for Safe Water, told the Toledo Blade after the ruling: “LEBOR is about giving power back to the people. I am feeling very angry. LEBOR is not to be written off as poetry.”

In a release, Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp said: “It is as clear today as it was one year ago that LEBOR was invalid and counterproductive to the real measures being taken for clean water in Ohio. We commend Mark Drewes for taking on this battle on behalf of farmers throughout the Lake Erie Watershed and we appreciate Judge Zouhary’s thoughtful verdict on this important issue. We hope this decision can place the focus back on the efforts Ohio farmers are making to be part of the solution to water quality challenges.”

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