Man files first-ever lawsuit on behalf of nature

Mother Nature is taking a developer to court under a new Florida law that gives citizens the right act on behalf of nature and file enforcement actions to protect waterways. 

The suit is the first ever of it's kind in the U.S. to be filed under what's called a "Rights of Nature" law. The law essentially gives citizens the right to act on behalf of nature in order to protect wetlands at risk of being destroyed.

"A corporation that represents commerce or industry have all the rights of a human and yet nature has no rights," plaintiff Chuck O'Neal said.

It's why O'Neal, a citizen of Orange County, is now acting on behalf of nature and suing a developer and the state to stop a planned development. He's able to do so because the new law was passed in the county last November. 

"People should have the right to sue to protect their waterways. We've decided enough is enough. The local people should have the right to file a lawsuit against a corporate polluter at the local level," the plaintiff's attorney, Steve Meyers, said.

According to the lawsuit, the defendant, Beachline South Residential LLC, has plans to build a 1,900-acre housing development, which O'Neal argues would destroy 63 acres of wetlands and 33 acres of streams. The development is planned for a portion of southwest Orange County near Lake Hart and Lake Mary Jane. 

"If you keep filling in these wetlands that are recharging our aquifer, pretty soon we're going to run out of groundwater," O'Neal said.

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Before the development can move forward, the company needs a dredge-and-fill permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is also a defendant named in the suit. O'Neal is asking a judge for an injunction which would prevent the department from granting the company the needed permit. 

"This is a movement that's not going to stop. People have had enough. We are beyond the point of sustainability in Florida and at some point, the insanity has to end," Meyers said.

The company named in the suit could not be reached for comment. FOX 13 reached out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. According to a department spokesperson, the department does not comment on pending litigation.