Ohio activists support ‘Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights’ initiative

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

We shared previous reports about activists working to allow voters to decide if the Caloosahatchee River will have its own bill of rights, ensuring Southwest Florida’s vital water source will remain pristine for now and future generations.

Activists in Southwest Florida have not given up on their plans for the “Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights,” and they are getting help from those who have had success projecting a major water body in the United States.

The rights water activists hope will pass for the Caloosahatchee would allow people to file lawsuits on its behalf against those who pollute it. The current plan is to get it on the ballot for the 2020 presidential election.

Local activists are now working with those who successfully gained rights for Lake Erie in Toledo, Ohio. Activists got a measure passed for the great lake, and they are in Southwest Florida to speak about their fight to give rights to nature.

“It’s a little hot for me. This is not the typical November weather,” said Markie Miller, an activist with Toledoans for Safe Water.

Miller and Tish O’Dell, with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, are visiting Southwest Florida for the first time. The two women from Ohio are pioneers, who are part of the movement that established legal standing for Lake Eire in Toledo called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

“Lake Erie is part of who you are when you live along the coastline in Ohio,” said O’Dell with. “There’s so many memories there.”

But the memories of the lake are filled with dirty water and green algae — much like what Southwest Florida experienced during the summer of 2018.

FILE Photo from summer 2018 in Southwest Florida. Blue-green algae within a residential canal that leads to the Caloosahatchee River. Credit: WINK News.

“It’s refreshing to know that there is hope out there,” said Sherry Straub with Clean Water Now, Inc, a local activist working toward the initiative in Southwest Florida. “That people care enough to stand up.”

The “Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights” would allow people to file lawsuits on behalf of the river against those who pollute.

In Toledo, the effort took years to get on the ballot and approved by voters.

“Watching it go through, it was really emotional,” Miller said.

To get the fight for a “Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights” on the 2020 ballot in Southwest Florida, organizers said they plan to start collecting signatures in January.

Once local activists file a petition with the Lee County Board of Elections, they have 180 days to collect 48,000 signatures.

If passed, the fight for Caloosahatchee rights won’t necessarily be smooth sailing. For example, the movement and the bill of rights still faces backlash in Toledo.

“Within 12 hours of it being passed, there was a lawsuit filed to have it overturned,” O’Dell said.

But Miller and O’Dell say the fight is worth it.

“I can either be silent and be poisoned and watch my whole community die around me,” Miller said. “Or I can stand up and take action and try as hard as I can to make a difference.”

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