Decision to not appeal LEBOR ruling frustrates backers

Larry Limpf

The decision by the City of Toledo to not appeal the court decision overturning the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is being criticized by members of Toledoans for Safe Water, who fought to have the LEBOR placed on the ballot in 2019 as an amendment to the city charter.
Voters approved the measure by a wide margin but it was struck down on Feb. 27 in U.S. District Court by Judge Jack Zouhary, who ruled it was “unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio.”
Attorneys for the city had filed an appeal in April with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals but earlier this month withdrew the motion to appeal.
“This decision by the city is unacceptable. Not only is it short-sighted from a public health perspective, it is another signal that democracy by the people is not a priority of the government. This should be an alarm bell for everyone, people should be outraged,” Hillary Tore, a member of TSW, said.
The LEBOR amended the city charter to give Lake Erie recognition as an ecosystem with the right to “exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”
The day after voters approved the ballot measure, Drewes Farms Partnership filed a court motion to invalidate it. The partnership was joined by the State of Ohio in its opposition to the amendment, which wasn’t in effect while the court case was being heard.
“LEBOR has exposed the reality that no branch of government is willing to protect Lake Erie. If we want to seriously protect the watershed and our community it is obvious we must do it ourselves,” said Cindy Matthews, of TSW. “If people are worried about jobs now, imagine how many will be lost when Lake Erie completely succumbs to the algae problem. Without clean water, there will be no city or community,”
Crystal Jankowski, also a member of TSW, echoed those sentiments.
“It is clear the future of Lake Erie and the health of the community is up to us. The people have two choices: continue to watch the slow death of the lake that sustains all life in this city or take action to protect her and our future,” she said.
But Judge Zouhary ruled his decision wasn’t difficult to reach.
“This is not a close call,” he wrote in his opinion. “LEBOR’s attempt to invalidate Ohio law in the name of environmental protection is a textbook example for what municipal government cannot do. Lake Erie is not a pond in Toledo. It is one of five Great Lakes and one of the largest lakes on Earth, bordering dozens of cities, four states and two countries. That means the lake’s health falls well outside the city’s constitutional right to local self-government, which encompasses only the government and administration of the internal affairs of the municipality.”
The judge also wrote the city could enact valid legislation to reduce water pollution and referred to an ordinance in Madison, Wisc. that restricts the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus within the city’s limits. That ordinance survived a lawsuit similar to the LEBOR case.
An email message left with the city’s attorneys in the case for comment wasn’t returned.


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