Area farmers peruse ag district contracts during an informative 'Right to Farm' session presented by the Ohio Farm Bureau - Putnam Sentinel
Area farmers peruse ag district contracts during an informative 'Right to Farm' session presented by the Ohio Farm Bureau. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Recent grassroots legislative efforts intended to facilitate protections for natural resources — such as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), an initiative put before City of Toledo voters in a special election yesterday — have caused no small amount of concern to the agriculture industry. Three informative sessions held Thursday in the assembly room at the Putnam County Courthouse brought farmers and landowners from throughout the county together to discuss their options.

Sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the sessions centered around Ag Districts, an aspect of a ‘right to farm’ law granting a defense for farmland holders against certain types of nuisance lawsuits, such as those potentially created by initiatives like LEBOR.

“With this whole Lake Erie Bill of Rights thing, all my boards and myself decided we should offer a brilliant member benefit for not just our members, but for any farmers in the area about why you should sign up for an ag district for your property,” Julia Vandenbroek, director of the Putnam, Allen and Van Wert Farm Bureaus, in introducing the 10 a.m. session.

Vandenbroek briefly discussed LEBOR and other similar legislative actions enacted sporadically across the nation. The gist of her message? Though increasing in popularity with the public, such amendments to municipal charters are equally unpopular with the courts, all of whom, to date, have declared them unconstitutional. In the case of Lake Erie, it is the states — Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York — as well as the Canadian Province of Ontario, that hold any and all legislative powers. Even so, any legal action comes at a significant cost, and battles to overturn similar initiatives have taken years to work their way through the courts.

Ag districts, Vandenbroek said, in addition to potentially providing protections against eminent domain seizures and assessments for infrastructure improvements, such as waterlines, safeguard farmers against lawsuits that could be generated by LEBOR. But, she said, those protections apply only to the landowners, not land-rent farmers.

“I don’t know who they’re going to file lawsuits against, but we know farmers are going to be their number one target,” Vandenbroek said.

While sensitive to the negative publicity intiatives like LEBOR create, Jankowski, one of the six founding members of Toledoans for Safe Water, the organization that brought LEBOR before Toledo’s voting public, remarked that individual farmers have little cause for concern.

“We’re concerned about industry and industrial farming runoff, the CAFOs,” Crystal Jankowski said. “This is not for mom and pop farmers. We have farmers who are on our side.”

While final results of the LEBOR special election were not available as of press time, early reporting indicated the measure will pass.