Officials from Williams County are stonewalling a proposed Community Rights county ballot initiative that would prevent corporate privatization of the Michindoh Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for the county. In response, Williams County residents filed a protest with the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Michindoh Aquifer is threatened by a proposal from the private company Artesian of Pioneer (AOP) to withdrawal and sell millions of gallons of water per day. A local mayor owns AOP. The freshwater aquifer spans nine counties across Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, including rural Williams, which borders Indiana and Michigan.
The initiative would establish a charter for Williams County that recognizes the right to local self-government and strengthens state protections for human and civil rights. The proposed charter also recognizes the rights of ecosystems, including legally enforceable rights of the Michindoh Aquifer. It bans corporate activities, such as water privatization, that violate those rights
After Williams County petitioners submitted 2,077 valid signatures to place the county charter on the November ballot, the Williams County Board of Elections (BOE) voted to reject the people’s proposed charter. Earlier this month, after being denied in common pleas court, petitioners appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing the initiative should be placed on the ballot immediately.
“It’s hard to believe that we find ourselves in a struggle with our own government over using our right to citizen initiative to protect our only source of water,” said Sherry Fleming of Williams County Alliance, the local group behind the initiative.
Since 2015, county Boards of Elections and state government officials have blocked 14 similar citizen initiatives across the state in an effort to stop the growing Community Rights and Rights of Nature movements. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which assisted Williams County residents in drafting the measure, is representing plaintiffs from across the state in a federal lawsuit for multiple civil rights violations. CELDF is also representing Williams County residents in the Ohio Supreme Court.