CFACT worked with over 100 concerned citizens and organizers, Thursday, to rally and testify in favor of property rights in Richmond, Virginia.
Of particular concern is overreach by land trusts and the heavy-handed tactics they employ against local property owners.
CFACT senior policy advisor Bonner Cohen offered testimony at the hearing.
One case that has captured the attention of concerned citizens and the media is the plight of Martha Boneta.
Martha owns Liberty Farm in Paris, Virginia. She bought the farm with a conservation easement attached. She never, expected, however, the belligerent approach that the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and others would take because of the easement.
Surprise inspections, intrusions and proposed surveillance cameras are part of what Martha has been dealing with. When Green campaigners and bureaucrats saw pictures of Martha hosting a birthday party at the farm on her Facebook page, they tried slapping her with fines of $5,000 per day. Martha quickly found herself facing fines over $2 million. Local bureaucrats were shocked to discover that Liberty farm was selling fresh honey and goats milk
Following Thursday’s rally and hearing the Virginia Outdoors Foundation voted 6 to 0 in favor of taking over full management of Liberty Farms easement from PEC.
While the details are still to be worked out, Thursdays activities appear to have resulted in a victory for Liberty — both the farm and the ideal. This also appears to have been a positive step towards reform of the way land trust easements and other property rights issues are treated in Virginia. As always, there is more work to do.
Thanks to everyone for your overwhelming expressions of support and especially to those who got up early and joined us in Richmond!
Public Comments by
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D.
Before the Board of Trustees
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
November 6, 2014
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address this important issue. I will make two brief points.
Earlier, the attorney for the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) stated that a PEC inspector was just trying to avoid a conflict when he asked Martha Boneta for guidance on the terms of the easement so he would not overstep his authority. This characterization of the inspector’s ignorance as “conflict avoidance’ is completely inaccurate.
On June 12, 2014, I was one of about 20 people who gathered on Liberty Farm to observe a conservation-easement-related inspection by the PEC. In light of the repeated misconduct by the PEC, we felt it necessary to “monitor the monitors.” It’s good that we did. Before the inspection got underway, Robert Marmet, the PEC’s lead inspector and an attorney, acknowledged that he was not familiar with the parameters of the conservation easement. That the PEC, after nearly eight years as co-holder of the conservation easement, would send someone to the Boneta property who did not know what it was he was there to enforce is proof of the breathtaking incompetence of the organization.
In closing, I would point out that no organization in the United States has done more harm to the cause of conservation easements than the Piedmont Environmental Council. How many landowners, having seen what the PEC has done to Martha Boneta, would want to risk the same thing happening to them? What is to keep another power-hungry, copy-cat land trust aggregating to itself the same police-state powers the PEC has used against Martha Boneta? Think of the terrible example the PEC, with its relentless transgressions against Mrs. Boneta, is setting. The PEC’s abhorrent behavior, which has nothing to do with its narrowly circumscribed role as co-grantee of the easement, must end. The only resolution to this situation is the resolution before you this morning. It will start a process at the end of which the PEC will no longer have any role whatsoever in the conservation easement on Martha Boneta’s farm. Thank you very much.