TOLEDO, Ohio — An unusual ballot measure approved by voters in Ohio’s fourth-largest city to give legal rights to Lake Erie is being challenged by farmers in a federal lawsuit that was filed Wednesday.
The lawsuit names the city of Toledo, where voters overwhelming approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights during a special election on Tuesday. The measure seeks to add new protections for Lake Erie by allowing people to file lawsuits on its behalf.
The plaintiffs, members of a fifth-generation farm family in Wood County, call the measure an assault on the fundamental rights of farmers in the Lake Erie region.
Toledo Law Director Dale Emch said the city is reviewing the lawsuit
A coalition of environmental groups has given their support to the Bill of Rights because of their concerns about how toxic algae blooms in the lake’s western basin have become a persistent threat to drinking water and the lake’s overall health. Much of the pollution feeding the algae is runoff from fertilizer that flows into the lake through tributaries.
Farmers are concerned the measure opens the door for lawsuits that would force them to make costly changes to the way they farm. The lawsuit claims it violates farmers’ constitutional rights and is unenforceable because it is too vague. It also seeks to immediately stop the new law from being enforced.
Legal experts have raised doubts about whether the law can survive a court challenge.
Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler told cleveland.com the law oversteps the city’s jurisdiction because Lake Erie extends far beyond Toledo.
“The people of one city don’t get to declare how a given resource could be used or protected when that resource is shared with lots of other jurisdictions,” Adler said.
Markie Miller, an organizer for Toledoans for Safe Water, told The Blade that her group is prepared for legal challenges.
“We expect this effort to bring about discussions and challenges, but hopefully ones inspired by the desire to create positive and meaningful changes,” she said.
Just nine percent of Toledo’s eligible voters cast ballots on Tuesday.