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Toledo gives Lake Erie legal rights - according to its city charter

Stefania and Mirek Czech
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Toledo voters have approved a charter amendment giving Lake Erie legal rights by a large margin, 9,867 to 6,211. 

Turnout in the special election, which also included a referendum on whether to keep the city's jail downtown, was 8.9% of registered voters.

The charter amendment purports to allow any city resident to sue to protect the lake.  

Grass roots organizers were elated by their victory after facing a barrage of negative ads by a well funded group called Toledo Jobs and Growth and Coalition.  

Crystal Jankowski says everyone remembers those three days in August, 2014, when a toxic green cyanobacteria bloom shut down the city's water supply.  The bacteria thrives on the runoff from farms.

"They lived through the water crisis," says Jankowski.  "They have those memories, so when they voted, they voted with those memories."

Jankowski says she and other organizers have been taking calls from communities across the country, hoping to replicate the Toledo group's success, to protect their local environment from threats such as pipelines, fracking, and corporate eminent domain property seizures.

Legal experts say the amendment is unconstitutional, because it conflicts with the rights given to the state of Ohio and the federal government.

Jankowski says it is now up to others to test whether the Lake Erie Bill of Rights will hold up in court. 

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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