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Toledo votes on Lake Erie Bill of Rights during special election

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 18:41:09-05

TOLEDO — Should a body of water like Lake Erie be given rights normally granted to a person? This question is one voted on during Tuesday's special election in Toledo.

Toledo voters will decide whether Lake Erie, which supports local economies in Cleveland and Buffalo, has the legal right to “exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”

Those in favor said the LEBOR would protect it from pollution and algae. If it passes, it will serve as the new legal framework, addressing pollution and any issues to drinking water before the damage is done.

In 2014, Lake Erie was contaminated with a dangerous algae. Folks could not drink it or even touch it.

“It was really scary. We saw how vulnerable we were. We saw how completely unprepared we were," said Mikey Miller, an organizer for Toledoans for Safe Water.

More than 500,000 people were affected by the toxic water, and Miller said the bill of rights could prevent that from ever happening again.

The group is backing the LEBOR, pushing voters to the polls on Tuesday.

“Lake Erie would have the right to live, just like people have the right to life, the right to exist and flourish and to be healthy," said Tish O'Dell, Ohio representative with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

The out-of-state nonprofit is backing the bill.

“Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature," she said.

O'Dell said this would be the first time in the U.S. a city charter grants rights to a body of water.

Those in opposition fear it could trigger legal battles.

Agricultural groups and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce are coming out against it, posting ads and radio commercials.

Some claim the LEBOR would make it easier to sue companies and farmers, and might take away high-paying jobs.

News 5 reached out to the City of Toledo, but they declined to comment, saying the subject matter was "too litigious".