Last week, the residents of the city of Toledo voted that Lake Erie and its watershed (which includes Allen County and every county adjacent to Allen County) can sue any business or government that either causes “harm” Lake Erie or fails to undertake “protective action” of Lake Erie. Even though the “law” was titled as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, LEBOR provides that Lake Erie’s rights are only due from businesses and governments.
Essentially, LEBOR vaguely, without enforcement standards or specifics of any type, attempts to empower any person to sue any “corporation or government” that does something to harm Lake Erie in any way or any corporation or government that fails to do whatever any private person thinks is appropriate to “protect Lake Erie and its watershed.”
April Fool’s Day is a month away, so this is not a fabrication of mine. However, Toledo’s city government leadership admits that this “law” is basically just a political statement designed to solicit attention to Toledo’s desire for less pollution of Lake Erie.
If LEBOR was actually enforced, it could immediately affect any and all businesses in our region. How could a farmer confidently fertilize a field of corn and know that not a single drop of phosphorous was not sufficiently absorbed by a plant, which could result in that single drop of phosphorous eventually making its way to Lake Erie?
How can any grocery store or restaurant ensure that none of its machinery would ever leak a drop of any chemical that would not end up in Lake Erie?
How could any business guarantee that literally nothing that the business does would adversely affect Lake Erie?
Most political, scientific and business leaders agree that establishing and enforcing best practices for each aspect of our economy is a better alternative than LEBOR. Consistent therewith, farmers have been encouraged to sign their farms up for “agricultural districts” to try to create a “shield” from lawsuits stemming from LEBOR or other similar laws, when farming under commercially reasonable practices.
Ag districts are essentially areas where the right to farm is set as the default for that particular geography. Farmers who are sued for farm-related nuisances (or potentially for violating LEBOR) could use the ag district designation as a defense to the alleged violation. Of course, farmers in ag districts must be commercially reasonable and use best practices. Ag district designations are designed to create geographies where reasonable and responsible farmers can confidently work their business.
Very generally, ag districts can only be comprised of land that has or would otherwise (if application had not been made) satisfy the requirements for Current Agricultural Use Value for taxes. Ag district designations can be applied-for by landowners (not tenant farmers) in the office of the county auditor of the county within the ag district is to be located.
Once established by the county auditor (based upon an application), the ag district has a five-year duration. However, ag districts can be renewed for successive five-year durations.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.