In the last couple of weeks, The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) has been the subject of a number of articles published online. The articles relate to PEC’s monitoring and enforcement of a conservation easement on real property owned by Piedmont Agriculture Academy, LLC (“PAA”), of which Martha Boneta is a member. The history of this easement has been posted on PEC’s website for some time and can be found at this link: https://www.pecva.org/land-conservation/conserving-your-land/855-easement-on-ovoka
The recent online articles contain inaccuracies and omissions regarding PEC, PEC’s employees, and the easement. These inaccuracies and omissions include, but, are not limited to, the following:
- The articles make little mention of the fact that Ms. Boneta purchased the property from PEC with full knowledge of PEC’s easement and PEC’s continuing property rights under the easement; likewise, the articles fail to mention that easement rights are in fact property rights of the easement holder.
- Contrary to the articles, it is not illegal for an entity holding a conservation easement to convey the easement to another qualified holder and to itself. This practice was upheld by the Fauquier County Circuit Court and Attorney General Cuccinelli.
- In the first lawsuit between PEC and Ms. Boneta/PAA, PEC alleged that Ms. Boneta/PAA had violated the easement. That litigation concluded when the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement and the Court entered an Agreed Final Order which confirmed, among other things, (a) the validity of PEC’s easement over PAA’s property, (b) PEC’s rights to conduct interior inspections of the Barn and the Smithy four (4) times per year to determine “if improvements have been made to accommodate residential use,” and (3) PEC’s rights to conduct monitoring visits to inspect the exterior of the property.
- The articles fail to mention these key provisions of the Final Order to which Ms. Boneta agreed. Further, the articles failed to provide a link for readers to access the Final Order and thereby ascertain the facts for themselves. The document can be accessed here. The articles fail to mention that all of PEC’s inspections of PAA’s property have been conducted with Ms. Boneta’s prior knowledge, participation and consent.
- Contrary to the articles, the PEC employees who have conducted the inspections of PAA’s property are very familiar with the terms of the easement, the Settlement Agreement and the Final Order.
- Contrary to one of the articles, neither PEC nor its employees have involvement with “Agenda 21”.
The articles also contain inaccuracies and omissions regarding the current litigation pending between the parties, but it is PEC’s general policy not to comment publicly on issues that are the subject of pending litigation.
PEC is committed to and appreciates a civil, open discourse regarding conservation policies and understands that there are those who disagree with PEC’s conservation policies. Indeed, civil discourse and disagreement on matters of importance are hallmarks of a free society. Regrettably, some of the comments posted in response to these inaccurate and incomplete on-line articles contain vicious, highly offensive threats of physical violence and property damage directed at PEC employees. PEC is considering its options on how best to ensure its employees’ safety and to deal with these threats. Threats of violence have no place in a free, open and democratic society. Consequently, PEC trusts that the online publishers will act responsibly, recognize that comments inciting or promoting violence are not protected speech under the United States Constitution, and take immediate action to remove such comments from their respective websites.