Legal expert: Enforcing a Lake Erie Bill of Rights could be difficult to do

Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 10:19 PM EST
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For many Toledoans August 2, 2014 is day that's hard to forget. It's the day that the city's water supply was considered unsafe after being tainted by toxic algae.

"This is not going to be our new normal," said former Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins. "We're going to fix this."

Since then the green sludge has been a regular cause for concern and people like Markie Miller want to stop it.

"It's a recurring threat, and I don't know how many times we have to witness those events until we get motivated enough to do something," said Miller.

Miller is part of a group that has worked to get the Lake Erie Bill of Rights on the ballot. If approved it will change the city's charter to allow citizens to sue on the lake's behalf when it comes to environmental violations. Toledoans will finally get the chance to vote on the issue Tuesday in a special election.

"We're actually telling the community here that, 'You have a voice now,' and giving them a way to use it," said Miller.

While it may have good intentions experts like University of Toledo law professor Ken Kilbert think a bill of rights will only go so far.

"I think it does have some legal flaws and may well suffer the fate of defeat in court," said Kilbert

As a charter amendment Kilbert says the bill would be hard to enforce as many complaints would likely involve state and federal laws that could trump it.

"This is pretty unprecedented in the U.S. with respect to providing standing or rights for an inanimate object," said Kilbert.

If a lawsuit were to stick violators would have to pay the city of Toledo and the money would be used to rehab the lake.

While it could be a gamble in the courtroom Miller says it's one that's worth taking to ensure a healthy Lake Erie for all.

"I think the whole point of doing this was to get something that had some teeth and had some power to it," said Miller.

If the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is voted down Miller says her group will rework the wording in hopes of getting back on the ballot at a later date.