SAFEBOR, (Santa Fe River Bill of Rights,) is a movement by local environmentalists to establish an amendment to Alachua County’s charter to provide rights to the river to protect it from harm. This is a new concept which is catching on in the U.S. as well as abroad.
We have current laws protecting the river which are blissfully ignored by the Department of Environmental Protection and its enablers, the water management districts. Under their care the Santa Fe, and virtually all of Florida’s rivers, continues to decline in flow and water quality as the authorities allow more and more pumping and pollution by industry.
The concept of nature possessing rights equal to individuals and corporations was sucessfully enacted for Lake Erie in Toledo, Ohio by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF.)
The local group is composed of Chair David Moritz, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Lucinda Merritt and John Moran, and assisted by Michael Roth. The meeting took place at the Millhopper Branch of Alachua Library in Gainesville.
The Gainesville Sun has an article “Santa Fe advocates launch a new strategy,” which can be seen here at this link. Following are some quotes:
“It may appear that the system is broken and needs to be fixed, but in fact the system is working well for those who are willing to sacrifice our public waters on the altar of their private profits,” said John Moran, a noted environmental photographer and advocate. “The rights of nature move is a recognition that we can’t save the planet playing by the rules. We need to change the rules.”
Under current law, nature is considered property. The law gives property owners wide leeway to use property as they want, said Lucinda Merritt of the group Our Santa Fe River[see Ed. note*.] Opponents of a land use proposal have a right to challenge permitting but cannot sue to prevent the proposed action, she said.
Giving the Santa Fe its own rights could provide a legal basis for the residents to prevent destructive action such as harmful development that could be proposed in the county. It could possibly give Alachua County residents the right to sue for proposed action in other counties since it would impact the river along Alachua County. A judge would have to decide on whether Alachua County residents have standing in such a suit.
“It gives each citizen the right to sue or enforce on behalf of the Santa Fe River,” said David Moritz, the chairman of the SAFEBOR group. “This is a way of inspiring other communities to do what we are trying to do.”
*Note: Merritt is a leader of the Ichetucknee Alliance, not OSFR.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-