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Why Would the PEC Fight to Keep Easement Enforcement on Martha Boneta’s Farm?

martha-flower

The Piedmont Environmental Council is supposed to be, among other things, a group that preserves and protects conservation easements on land that has entered into the program. The intent is to protect and preserve these easements in exchange for tax and / or monetary benefits in exchange for allowing land to be a part of these easements.

When Martha Boneta and her family purchased the picturesque 64 acre farm in Fauquier County back in 2006, it came with the conservation easement attached. And to be sure, the property was hardly what one would consider picturesque at the time of purchase. In fact, the dilapidated condition of the barn and the overgrowth accumulation, the result of decades of neglect, was a testimony to the poor stewardship of the PEC. The land entrusted to the PEC had become an eyesore under their “protection”.

Enter Martha and family who have reconstructed the barn – which had a tree growing through the roof – and cleared the land. They turned the eyesore into a breathtaking panorama worthy of a postcard, if not a grand master’s brush. The kaleidoscope of seasonal colors and contrast are a display of nature at her best, woven with the love and care of a pesticide free farm and animal habitat where the symbiosis between man and animal is as God intended.

What Martha has built is the textbook definition of a Conservation easement. Man and nature in perfect harmony preserved and maintained by a lady that is the fabric and the glue that binds this agricultural symphony of nature and nurture into a seamless and tranquil oasis unlike anyplace I have ever seen.

Martha Boneta and her work are the embodiment of all that is good and proper about conservation easements.

In stark contrast to the balance at Liberty Farms is the harsh cacophony of the Piedmont Environmental Council who claim on their own website that the “PEC is a leader — empowering citizens to protect what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place and encouraging them to pursue a positive vision for the region’s future.

And as I look at the video tape of the Brownshirt inspectors from the PEC who routinely make harassment visits to the farm to “ensure” that the terms of the conservation easement are upheld, I have to ask myself why the amazing transformation under Martha’s stewardship of this run-down property isn’t enough to convince the PEC that Martha has done a stellar job at protect[ing] what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place and encouraging them to pursue a positive vision for the region’s future.

And as far as empowering citizens, that is a joke when it comes to Martha. Quite the opposite in fact.

Liberty Farm is the most positive vision I could possibly imagine for the Piedmont area and Fauquier County juxtaposed against the larger corporate farms in the area making chemical and pesticide companies like Monsanto rich in their quest for greed and profit.

Whenever I visit Liberty Farms I feel as if I were magically transported back a couple of hundred years to a time when farms like Martha’s were ground zero for sustaining life in the Piedmont, and much of the Virginia area. The gently rolling hills and rich pastures presented majestic views of God’s wonders and the bounty he intended for his children. The land and the animals were respected and revered. And Martha has brought that simple slice of time forward to show us how life used to be.

The many people that visit Liberty Farm are blessed with a sense of peace when you see that the animals are well cared for and loved, and you have a notion that they are actually happy to provide milk, eggs, wool and feathers as well as honey and other wonders to Martha and all that visit.

And Martha happily teaches the “old” ways of making soap, processing raw wool and other materials into usable commodities in a way that does more to preserve the past than anyone else in the Piedmont does. And  she is especially delighted to pass on this knowledge to young people and college kids. She is planting the seeds of a crop that grows only in the fertile fields of young minds, teaching a respect for nature and the natural order of things that is a dying remnant of days past.

And of course there is the actual produce that grows in the garden nurtured not by fertilizer from a chemical plant, but the compost pile Martha calls “black gold”.

To be honest, if someone asked me about conservation easements and if they work, I can think of no better example for a positive outcome than Martha Boneta’s Liberty Farm in Paris, Virginia.

But I would have to be honest with them and tell them that the biggest obstacle to successful conservation easements would be the Piedmont Environmental Council. And I would recommend against entering into any easement program that would be overseen by the PEC. The constant harassment Martha has received is well publicized and well known. The PEC has become the greatest obstacle to preserving land. And that is a shame.

Martha has asked the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to take over the enforcement duties from the PEC in what I think would be a great move. At a meeting I attended last month the VOF agreed to sit down with the PEC and discuss taking over the enforcement of the easement on Martha’s property. And last Friday, that meeting took place. I did not attend but it is my understanding that they at least agreed to another meeting to discuss the issue.

Martha never received a dime from the easement. It came with the property. She is allowed to farm the land. But the constant and harassing inspections are interfering with her ability to work the farm and have given the PEC a bad name and have been counterproductive to the intent of conservation easements. And that is a shame.

The PEC gives me the impression that this is personal. That it is a vendetta of some kind against Martha and her family. Rather than coming by and walking around to make sure Martha is in compliance with the terms of the easement, the PEC is bullying and doing their best to find something, anything, that may indicate non-compliance. It has reached the point of silliness, but no one is laughing.

If the PEC were truly interested in only the Conservation Easement, then they would have no reason to oppose the VOF in their willingness to take over the enforcement duties.

But if the PEC resists, it will be clear to me that management of the easement is not their true intent. And that there is something outside the enforcement of the conservation Easement that is behind their irrational inspections.

It is time to let Martha Boneta be a farmer. I am proud and inspired at what this lady has accomplished and the mountain she has climbed just to farm in peace. Her story has inspired a state law to roll back the harassment from Fauquier County officials and her tenacity has raised awareness of the PEC and their insidiousness that has brought the entire Conservation Easement program into peril. Most people who have been following this story have come to believe that the PEC is no longer about the conservation and the environment.

Perhaps the General Assembly should look at conservation Easements in depth and consider limiting the duration of the easements from forever to a reasonable period. And they should look at the enforcement of these easements once they are established. It was never the intent of easements to be used to harass and terrify landowners. Nor should that happen. We need regulations on the regulators to prevent overreaches like we see with the PEC.

A number of years ago a PECK was a measure of weight most often used on farm goods like beans and wheat. Two gallons dry measure of beans was a peck.

How ironic that PEC and PECK are units of weight. PECK has become obsolete, but PEC is now a unit of weight hung around a farmer’s neck.

Will our next cause be to dissolve the PEC and their oversight through the legislature? That remains to be seen as the VOF and PEC meet again.

About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog.Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

13 Responses to “Why Would the PEC Fight to Keep Easement Enforcement on Martha Boneta’s Farm?”

  1. Land Trust Watchdogs says:

    The PECkers are destroying Virginia’s peaceful rural way of life.

    STOP OUR TAXES from funding this Land TRUST Fraud and assault on LIBERTY.

    oUR TAXES. OUR MONEY. OUR CHOICE.

    DEFUND vIRGINIA’S FRAUD CONSERVATION SCAM PROGRAM NOW!

    sTOP BLEEDING THE TAX PAYERS NOW AND FAKE CONSERVATION TAX CREDITS

  2. Robert Shannon says:

    I have watched and read much if not all of what has been written on this topic, surely any objective reader would draw the conclusion of a regulatory agency run amok.

    My question is just what tax benefits specifically are provided to Martha as a result of this property already having an easement on it when her family purchased it in 2006 ?

    Is it solely a reduced property value in computing her local real estate taxes.? Is it a tax reduction in Income generated for federal income tax purposes ? While none of that matters relative to the central point of the abuse she has been subjected to, I am always trying to illustrate the “trading with the devil” consequences of these tax schemes.

    Dr. Milton Friedman, the Noble Prize winning economist was once asked about tax exemptions for various land uses, to which he replied

    ” If one wants to farm it, sell it, rent it out , develop it, or allow it to just sit open , that is a choice made by free people, other citizens should not be required to subsidize free choices made with regard to how one choices to use land, no more than choices made on how one uses any other asset, which land is”

    Too often the tax code is used under the noble calling of doing ” good for the general public”, such as the often cited declaration that in this case , the good being that the land is kept open, and free from development. More often than not in my own research it is a cleverly disguised effort to reduce the tax consequences of large land owners that have enough political influence to move legislation that allows these tax breaks.

    One need look no further than localities and the revenue that must be made up by other citizens when all of the land use exemptions are utilized. In King William where you have only 16.300 citizens the numbers speak for themselves.

    Open Space, Forestry, Agricultural and Horticultural land use exempted classes, throw in the Conservation easements ( and the abuses) one doesn’t have to be a math genius to see the dilemma and the pressure it creates on other property owners , relative to the “tax tab”.

    I wish Martha well, and hope that soon her harassment at the hands of the PEC Gestapo’s ends. I also want to make the point of what Pandora’s Box you open when you begin using the tax code to encourage these types of arrangements.

    Something like 93% of the land mass in the U.S is “open” ( according to none other than our esteemed Donna Holt) so doling out tax breaks for the dubious purpose of keeping space open is against Dr. Friedman’s principled and logical philosophy and creates more problems and inequity in the tax code and tax burden, rendering it’s value highly suspect.

    Bob Shannon

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Tom White Says:

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