Do local conservation easement inspections cross line into trespass?

Green Group Under Scrutiny for Trespassing, Harassment at Woman’s Farm, The Daily Signal, July 24, 2014.

Know your rights. Excerpts:

Boneta claims in a lawsuit filed last month in Fauquier County, Va., Circuit Court the inspections are part of a pattern of harassment. Her case accuses Peter Schwartz, a member of the elected Fauquier County Board of Supervisors and former member of the PEC Board of Directors, of, among other things, telling zoning officials he wants the rules “aggressively enforced” with regard to the farm.

She also claims PEC should not be allowed to be involved in the enforcement of the easement. She said before the PEC sold her the farm in 2006, it owned both the property and the easement, which is illegal under Virginia law.

Almost all property owners with easements must endure routine inspections by the land conservancies or other organizations that enforce the easements.

A lawsuit Boneta filed seeks to halt invasive inspections of her farm by the Piedmont Environmental Council.

She told [PEC inspectors] Marmet and Kane when they entered her property in June they could inspect only what the easement language allows. “It’s very clear,” she said. And if they “exceed what the language says, it is considered trespassing. In the past, you have demanded to inspect my closets and have photographed my personal private possessions, and this exceeds your authority.”

Marmet replied that, yes, he is an attorney—and a former judge, according to his bio on the PEC website—but he is not licensed to practice law in Virginia and is not familiar with the terms of the lease. If he was about to violate any of its terms, he told Boneta, “I ask that you give me notice.”

At which point, Mark Fitzgibbons, an attorney and neighbor who has supported legislation to protect traditional farming practices from intrusive zoning rules, stepped in. “The PEC has been placed on notice,” Fitzgibbons told Marmet. “The obligation is on you, not Martha Boneta, to know what the easement terms are.”

Fitzgibbons told The Daily Signal the inspections have gotten out of hand. “From what I’ve observed, these inspections are being conducted with an agenda greater than ensuring fidelity to the easement,” he said.

“It does seem to me the PEC has crossed a line. They are going anywhere and everywhere across Martha’s property, and it does seem excessive. So, either they do not know what the easement terms really say, or they do know and are pushing boundaries of their easement authority. Also, if the terms of easement are vague, they are to be construed against the inspector, which opens the issue of trespassing.”

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One Response to Do local conservation easement inspections cross line into trespass?

  1. madge Eic her Reply

    July 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

    This is the perfect example of our Government (Federal, State, and Local included) being out of control. They make rules and we the people must obey, but they do not have to obey. If you are “in” with the government, you are exempt from rules — P.E.C. is “in control” of our Fauquier County Government through the Board of Supervisors and they DO NOT obey the County Ordinances that P.E.C. has passed through the Board of Supervisors. Look at the “Wine Ordinance”! Who could possibly tell a business what their hours of operations must be???? Yet, wineries must close at 6 P.M and if you see a light on in a winery after 6 PM call 911 and report it.
    You are supposed to call 911 only in an emergency. Such hypocrisy.
    Madge Eicher

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