First-ever ‘rights of nature’ lawsuit filed in Florida to fight development

Mother Nature is fighting back — in court.

Thanks to a new “rights of nature” law passed last year in Orange County, Florida, a network of streams, lakes and marshes is taking on a developer and the state to try to stop a housing development from destroying them.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in Orange County and is the first one of its kind in the US. The listed plaintiffs are Wilde Cypress Branch, Boggy Branch, Crosby Island Marsh, Lake Hart and Lake Mary Jane, the Guardian reported Saturday.

According to the suit, a proposed 1,900-acre housing development by Beachline South Residential LLC would destroy more than 63 acres of wetlands and 33 acres of streams by filling and polluting them, as well as 18 acres of wetlands where stormwater detention ponds are being built.

Similar laws protecting the rights of nature are proliferating around the world and have been upheld in courts in India, Colombia and Bangladesh.

“Our waterways and the wildlife they support have been systematically destroyed by poorly planned suburban sprawl,” said Chuck O’Neal, president of the Speak Up Wekiva group, who will be representing the wetlands in court, “They have suffered in silence and without representation, until now.”

The housing development is known as the “Meridian Parks Remainder Project.” It needs a development permit from the city of Orlando and a dredge-and-fill permit from the Florida department of environmental protection to proceed. The suit seeks to block these from being issued.

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