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Lake Erie Granted Legal Rights by Voters

Toledo, Ohio held a special election for voters to decide on the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.
February 27, 2019, 12pm PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The Maumee River cuts through Toledo on its way to Lake Erie.
Christopher Boswell

As Planetizen previewed late last week, voters considered the Lake Erie Bill of Rights this week, which proposed the legal status of personhood for the environmentally troubled lake.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the idea, according to an article by Tom Henry: "In a special election that drew only about 9 percent of Toledo’s registered voters to the polls, the citizen-led Lake Erie Bill of Rights referendum passed by a 61-39 margin on Tuesday night, according to unofficial election results."

"Toledo represents only a fraction of the entire Lake Erie basin, but it lies along the heart of the western Lake Erie shoreline — the most ecologically fragile and most biologically dynamic part of the Great Lakes basin because of its shallowness and relative warmth. Just outside the Toledo area lies some of North America’s top fishing and birding opportunities," explains Henry of the city of Toledo's stake in the debate.

The approval of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights doesn't entirely resolve the issue, however. "Now, it’s up to lawyers to sort out what the citizenry’s impassioned plea for the lake really means in practice — that is, if it will be more of a symbolic gesture or, as its supporters claim, a new approach to planning and enforcement that will hold more polluters accountable," according to Henry.

An article published by WTVG proves that point, reporting that the Drewes Family Farm in Custar filed the first lawsuit against the Lake Erie Bill of Right in U.S. District Court. "The suit says the Lake Erie Bill of Rights puts the Drewes Family at risk of massive liability if any fertilizer runoff enters the Lake Erie watershed," according to the article.

Additional commentary and insight into the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is available in an article on Vox by Sigal Samuel. The article includes a lot of historical background on the evolving legal question of the rights of nature. Samuel also speculates on the potential effectiveness of this strategy.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 in Toledo Blade
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