U.S. law treats corporations as legally independent “persons” who can sue or be sued. So why can’t waterways have these rights, too? That’s the thinking in Orange County, Florida, where some lakes, streams and marshes are suing a developer that wants to destroy these worthy citizens by building housing.
The ‘rights of nature’ measure passed in Orange County last November. The liquid plaintiffs — Boggy Branch, Wilde Cypress Branch, Lake Hart, Lake Mary Jane and Crosby Island Marsh — filed their suit on Monday in Florida’s ninth judicial circuit court. They claim that Beachline South Residential LLC’s proposed new 1,900-acre residential development would destroy 63 plus acres of wetlands and 33 acres of streams. The development would fill and/or pollute the streams and also ruin an additional 18 wetland acres where the company would build storm detention ponds.
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“Our waterways and the wildlife they support have been systematically destroyed by poorly planned suburban sprawl,” said Chuck O’Neal, president of Speak up Wekiva. “They have suffered in silence and without representation, until now.” O’Neil will represent the wetlands on their court dates.
Beachline South Residential needs two permits to build its proposed Meridian Parks Remainder Project — a development permit and a dredge-and-fill permit. The suit aims to prevent these permits from being issued.
“Given the rampant development that’s occurred in Florida over the past 30 years, and the power struggle between the state government and local government over these issues, there are multiple grounds for a court to hold that the development cannot proceed as proposed,” said Thomas Linzey, senior legal counsel at the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights.
Other counties in over-developed Florida have been asking Orange County’s Florida Rights of Nature Network for help blocking rampant building in their communities. While other places have adopted similar measures, this is the first time in the U.S. that anyone has tried to enforce the rights of nature. In Ecuador, the Vilcabamba River won its 2011 lawsuit seeking reparations for damages from a road-widening project. In India, courts have ruled in favor of legal personhood for the Yamuna and Ganges rivers and Himalayan lakes, glaciers and forests.
Via The Guardian
Image via Jeremy Gordon