Property Rights Rally, Hearing for Martha Boneta Case on Nov. 6

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Martha Boneta

Martha Boneta, whose property is under a conservation easement with the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, claims PEC has harassed and intimidated her for eight years.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation will be holding a hearing for Fauquier County farmer Martha Boneta’s claims against the Piedmont Environmental Council, an environmental conservation group Boneta says has trespassed on her property and harassed her for years.

Boneta, who owns Liberty Farm in Paris, Va., claims PEC has continually performed exceedingly intensive and demanding inspections of her farm, which Boneta believes is intended to intimidate her. PEC claims they are simply enforcing their legal agreement with Boneta.

PEC is a non-profit organization that was established in 1972 to protect the Piedmont region of Virginia’s rural land, resources, history and beauty, according to its website. Boneta bought the 64-acre plot located off Gap Run Road from PEC in 2006. PEC sells portions of land to both public and private landowners that are subject to conservation easements, which is the case for Boneta’s property.

The VOF, which co-holds the easement on Boneta’s property with PEC, will consider Boneta’s claims at the Nov. 6 public hearing. The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Department of Conservation and Recreation in Richmond. Property rights advocates will stage a rally before the hearing at 9 a.m.

Several property rights and free market groups have expressed their support for Boneta.   In a joint letter to the VOF Board of Trustees and the Virginia Attorney General, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, American Land Rights Association, Competitive Enterprise Institute, National Center for Public Policy Research and Foundation for Land and Liberty, stated that they believe PEC has not upheld the Virginia Conservation Easement Act. (PRESS RELEASE: Property Rights Rally, Press Conference & Hearing)

Martha Boneta's 64-acre Liberty Farm in Paris, Va.

Martha Boneta’s 64-acre Liberty Farm in Paris, Va. Boneta purchased the property from PEC in 2006.

“As organizations that firmly believe that environmental stewardship begins with the protection of property rights, we find the PEC’s relentless harassment of Liberty Farm’s owner, Martha Boneta, is nothing short of appalling,” the organizations wrote. “From its collusion with Fauquier County officials to have zoning restrictions imposed on Liberty Farm, to its shameless offer to the VOF to have surveillance cameras put on Mrs. Boneta’s property, the PEC has repeatedly overstepped its narrow, and clearly defined, authority under the terms of the easement.”

According to the Land Trust Alliance, a conservation easement is “a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and they can also sell it or pass it on to heirs.”

According to the Daily Signal, VOF rejected PEC’s request to install cameras on Boneta’s farm.

The organizations claim the PEC has also attempted to place regulations on Boneta for conditions that do not violate the easement.

“PEC has demanded that agricultural fencing, tires, water hoses, recreational vehicles registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, chicken coups all be removed, even though these are all completely compatible with the terms of the easement,” the organizations stated.

Tina Fox, a Fauquier County citizen who is friends with Boneta and her family, claims that she has personally witnessed PEC’s abuse of power at Boneta’s farm.

“As a Fauquier citizen, I have personally witnessed the bully tactics PEC has used not just against Mrs. Boneta, but also in this county against other innocent citizens,” Fox stated in a letter addressed to VOF, the Attorney General and the General Assembly. “I am writing as a concerned American, Virginian, Fauquier citizen, mother, grandmother and wife about the Piedmont Environmental Council’s gross abuse of power and intimidation against Martha Boneta and Liberty Farm that I have personally witnessed.”

Fox cited instances of PEC disrespecting Boneta’s property and refusing to give a reason for inspecting a shower tub.

In response to allegations about PEC’s behavior during inspections, PEC stated, “We always make our best effort to respect the privacy of landowners, and make these visits as timely, efficient, and pleasant as possible.”

Boneta Farm Martha Feeding Sheep copy-X3

Martha Boneta’s property is located in the historic Paris, Va., next to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

PEC stated in a post about Boneta’s property on its website that they did not “see eye to eye” with her in regards to past ligation conflicts. PEC stated that Boneta knew the limitations that would be enforced when she signed the contract.

“To protect the quiet, rural character of the Village of Paris, the easement also placed strict limits on the number of people who could visit the property each day in connection with the commercial or industrial activities permitted under the easement … those restrictions were reviewed with and acknowledged by Mrs. Boneta, during the contract negotiations and again at the time of the sale,” PEC stated.

PEC stated that the contract gives them the right to inspect the inside of Boneta’s farm four times a year. The green group claims Boneta was always given “prior knowledge, participation and consent after notice to her counsel” before inspections.

PEC released another post to clarify misconceptions and inaccuracies they believe have been circulating around the web. The group also reported to have received threatening comments online.

The Virginia Free Citizen contacted PEC for further comment and did not get a response within publishing time.

Boneta’s supporters say they would like to see the environmental group removed as co-holder of the easement.

“In abusing its oversight authority of the conservation easement on Martha Boneta’s farm, including the relentless harassment of a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen, the PEC has violated the public trust,” said Bonner Cohen, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “The Nov. 6 VOF meeting in Richmond should open the way to the PEC’s being removed as co-grantee of the easement. Only then will this problem, which was created by the PEC and its cronies, come to an end.”

Date and Times:

Nov. 6, 2014 with a rally at 9:00 a.m. followed by the 9:30 a.m. hearing
Location:  Department of Conservation & Recreation, 600 E. Main Street, 12th Floor, Richmond VA 23219

Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

Shelby Mertens

About Shelby Mertens

Shelby Mertens is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Mass Communications - Journalism. She was the arts and culture editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU's independent student press. Shelby was a blogging and social media intern for Gandzee, an online retail startup in Richmond. She covered the General Assembly session last spring for Capital News Service on behalf of over 70 news publications across the state. She has also published work on WTVR-CBS 6's website, a part of the iPadJournos project at VCU.