These Florida waterways are taking developers to court

If nature could speak, would it defend its rights from damaging human activity? Last November, Orange County, Florida passed a measure called the “rights of nature” that allows for entities such as waterways to bring people to court should someone infringe on their rights.

Two weeks ago, a network of streams, lakes, and marshes in Florida exercised this right by suing developer Beachline South Residential LLC. The plaintiffs—Boggy Branch, Wilde Cypress Branch, Lake Hart, Lake Mary Jane, and Crosby Island Marsh—claim that the developer’s plan for a 1,900-acre residential development would completely wipe out more than 63 acres of wetlands and 33 acres of streams. On top of this, the development would pollute or fill the streams which would in turn damage even more wetland acres where the company plans to build storm detention ponds.

Chuck O’Neal, president of Speak up Wekiva, will represent the wetlands in court. The objective of the suit is to prevent Beachline South Residential from obtaining the two permits needed (a development permit and a dredge-and-fill permit) to start construction.

According to Thomas Linzey, senior legal counsel at the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, “the rampant development that’s occurred in Florida over the past 30 years, and the power struggle between the state government and local government [gives the court] multiple grounds… to hold that the development cannot proceed as proposed.”

While there are other places that have similar measures in place, this is the first time in the US that entities such as these waterways are enforcing the rights of nature, and hopefully, it will not be the last.

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