Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has pledged its support to Wood County Farm Bureau member and farmer Mark Drewes, the first farmer to file a lawsuit in Federal District Court. Drewes is challenging the constitutionality and legal status of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), approved by Toledo voters during a special election in early-March.
LEBOR grants rights to Lake Erie by empowering any Toledo citizen to file a lawsuit(s) on behalf of the lake. It gives Toledo residents authority over nearly 5 million Ohioans, thousands of farms, more than 400,000 businesses and every level of government in 35 northern Ohio counties plus parts of Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada.
LEBOR was passed in an attempt to pressure farmers to reduce their nutrient losses, which are part of the driver for algal blooms in the Western Lake Eire Basin (WLEB), despite the prevailing legal opinion that many of the ballot measure's provisions are unconstitutional.
Even though the case is based in Ohio, the outcome of the lawsuit could have implications for Michigan farmers, according to Michigan Farm Bureau Ag Ecologist Laura Campbell. Seven southeastern Michigan counties are considered part of the WLEB Watershed.
“Farmers throughout the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) and the entire region are working hard to improve soil health and protect water quality through new technology as well as university scientific research to work toward those goals,” Campbell explained.
“To give activist groups with political agendas the ability to sue farms and potentially drive them out of business does not help water quality — it just means that money that could have been spent improving farm practices and conservation efforts is spent, instead, defending themselves in court,” she said.
Campbell added that frivolous lawsuits like LEBOR are counter-productive to the efforts of hundreds of farms in Michigan’s portion of the WLEB who are improving soil testing and nutrient incorporation through farm practices and equipment upgrades.
“Farmers throughout the WLEB have invested heavily — installing water quality protection technology on thousands of surface and sub-surface drainage systems, and other initiatives to minimize agriculture’s impact to water quality,” Campbell said.
Within Michigan, Campbell said farmers across the state have a demonstrable track record of working with Michigan State University, local Conservation Districts, the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to keep thousands of pounds of nutrients and thousands of tons of sediment on fields and out of Lake Erie.
Drewes, a long-time member of Ohio Farm Bureau, also serves on the board of directors for The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. Drewes Farm Partnership is a family crop operation in Custar, Ohio, with a significant history of being dedicated to improving water quality.
“Mark’s farm is an example of the right way of doing things,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “He’s employing a variety of conservation practices, water monitoring systems, water control structures and uses variable rate enabled equipment and yet he’s vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. We are proud that our member has stood up against this overreach, and his efforts will benefit all Farm Bureau members, farmers and protect jobs in Ohio.”
OFBF has historically engaged in precedent-setting court cases that potentially affect its members. Farm Bureau will actively assist Drewes and his legal team throughout this litigation to ensure its members’ concerns are heard. OFBF’s legal staff will monitor developments, lend agricultural expertise and provide supporting information about agriculture’s efforts to protect water quality.
Drewes is represented by the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, which has extensive experience fighting against onerous government action.
Thomas Fusonie, a partner at Vorys and one of the counsels for Drewes, explained, “The Charter Amendment is an unconstitutional and unlawful assault on the fundamental rights of family farms in the Lake Erie Watershed – like the Drewes’ 5th generation family farm. The lawsuit seeks to protect the Drewes’ family farm from this unconstitutional assault.”
The suit argues LEBOR violates federal constitutional rights, including equal protection, freedom of speech and is unenforceable for its vagueness. A request for a preliminary and permanent injunction was also filed seeking to prevent enforcement of the law.
“Farmers want and are working toward improving water quality, but this new Toledo law hurts those efforts. Mark Drewes understands this, and it’s Farm Bureau’s job to back his important actions on behalf of Ohio farmers,” Sharp said.