Progress Editor

TOLEDO – Voters in the Feb. 26 City of Toledo Special Election approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

The amendment to the city charter passed with 61.37 percent voting yes and 38.63 voting no, according to unofficial election results. Voter turnout was a mere 8.9 percent of Toledo’s registered voters.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) will give Lake Erie and the Lake Erie Watershed – which includes all of northern Ohio that drains into Lake Erie – “the right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve,” including all natural water features, organisms, soils and terrestrial/aquatic sub ecosystems.

LEBOR gives any citizen of Toledo the right to sue any farmer, business or government entity, through the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, that they feel violates these rights.

The measure has met with resistance from Ohio’s agricultural community.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation issued the following statement Tuesday night: “Farm Bureau members are disappointed with the results of the LEBOR vote. Our concern remains that its passage means Ohio farmers, taxpayers and businesses now face the prospect of costly legal bills fighting over a measure that likely will be found unconstitutional and unenforceable. Nevertheless, Farm Bureau members remain committed to finding and implementing real solutions to the lake’s challenges.

On Wednesday, Wood County farmer Mark Drewes filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for Northern Ohio, challenging the constitutionality and legal status of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) has pledged its support to Drewes, who is a long-time Farm Bureau member, according to a media release from the organization.

Drewes Farm Partnership is a family crop operation in Custer with a significant history of being dedicated to improving water quality.

“Mark’s farm is an example of the right way of doing things,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of OFBF. “He’s employing a variety of conservation practices, water monitoring systems, water control structures and uses variable rate enabled equipment and yet he’s vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. 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.”

OFBF has historically engaged in precedent setting court cases that potentially affect its members. Farm Bureau will actively assist Drewes and his legal team throughout this litigation to ensure our members' concerns are heard. OFBF’s legal staff will monitor developments, lend agricultural expertise and provide supporting information about agriculture’s efforts to protect water quality.

Drewes is represented by the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP.

Thomas Fusonie, a partner at Vorys and one of the counsel for Drewes, said, “The Charter Amendment is an unconstitutional and unlawful assault on the fundamental rights of family farms in the Lake Erie Watershed – like the Drewes’ fifth generation family farm. The lawsuit seeks to protect the Drewes’ family farm from this unconstitutional assault.”

The suit argues LEBOR violates federal constitutional rights, including equal protection, freedom of speech and is unenforceable for its vagueness. A request for preliminary and permanent injunction also was filed seeking to prevent enforcement of the law.

The group Toledoans for Safe Water led the effort to place LEBOR on the ballot and led the campaign in support of the initiative. They maintain that Toledo residents possess the right to a clean and healthy environment. According to the measure, “Lake Erie and the Lake Erie watershed comprise an ecosystem upon which millions of people and countless species depend for health, drinking water and survival.”

Ohio Farm Bureau has been encouraging farmers to enroll their operations in an Agricultural District, a “right to farm” law that could help land owners defend against LEBOR and other situations that might put their farms in jeopardy.

Paulding County Farm Bureau held a “Sign Up for Ag District Day” on Feb. 18 with three sessions.