This quote is straight from the website of one of the oldest and most successful land preservation organizations in the United States, the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Their home turf is northern Fauquier County and southwestern Loudon County, nestled in the heart of horse country in northern Virginia, and they defend this territory without mercy against all who would destroy a view shed that exists nowhere else in the eastern U.S.
They proudly proclaim that the “PEC’s commitment to stewardship of conserved lands will ensure that much of this region’s valuable farmland, forests, wetlands, scenic countryside and historic heritage are forever protected.”
Their major achievement and the one they proudly point to most often, is their conquest of “the mouse”, when they took on Disney and ended their plans to build a theme park in northern Virginia. Clearly they fear no developer, no national entity, and certainly no mere citizen of Fauquier County.
So why is it they did nothing to stop one of the biggest travesties that has occurred on their turf in recent history? Why did they refrain from uttering one syllable to stop the besmirching of the view shed in one of the most protected landscapes in all of America, the Crooked Run Valley Rural Historic District?
Crooked Run Valley Rural Historic District is a national historic district located near Paris Virginia in Fauquier County. This district encompasses 386 contributing buildings, 27 contributing sites, and 21 contributing structures, and soon it will include yet another contributing structure that will surely not enhance its historic or scenic value.
This new structure is being built on a property in the middle of one of the most visible landscapes in Virginia, one that tens of thousands of people pass through each year. It is also visible from one of the most visited sections of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, is visible from the PEC’s own prized Piedmont Memorial Overlook property, and will forever be part of the open space that surrounds the village of Paris, one of the anchors of the Crooked Run Rural Historic District.
This new addition to the Crooked Run Historic District is also located in an area prized and protected for its agricultural soils, and it sits in in the midst of numerous Civil War Battlefields which are still being studied for their historical significance.
So what is this structure that the PEC obviously values above all these things they have sworn to protect in perpetuity?
It is a cellular tower.
They have stated in the past that “new cell towers are being proposed throughout the County, which may bring better service into more remote rural areas, but could also bring an intrusive industrial type use into areas valued for their picturesque landscapes.”
So why would an organization such as PEC that opposes every chicken coop, dog house, tool shed, and clothes line construction project in the county; one that claims to protect the amazing view shed in places like Crooked Run by promoting oppressive zoning laws for over 40 years, stand mutely on the sidelines while this tower went through the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, and received approval?
The reason is simple; money.
In 2000, PEC purchased over 1,200 acres of Ovoka Farm (in Paris, VA) “to ensure that this beautiful property — and the vista enjoyed by a young George Washington — remains rural for generations to come.” They purchased this property from Mr. Phillip Swing Thomas, proprietor of Thomas and Talbot realty in Middleburg, VA. PEC got a great deal on this land which Mr. Thomas inherited from his father, and Mr. Thomas likely got a sweet tax deduction among other things.
In an interview with Blue Ridge Hunt Country Magazine in 2004, Mr. Thomas explained, “I basically sold the farm for two-thirds of its market value to the Piedmont Environmental Council and gifted the remaining value. This approach worked for me.” In an announcement on the Thomas and Talbot website it says the value of this gift to PEC was “over $4 million in value”, and this gift appears to be what earned him the Land Conservation Award for 2001 from the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Piedmont Environmental Council put all of the land except for 50 acres used for the Piedmont Memorial Overlook into conservation easements, and the rest was resold to buyers over the next few years.
Does anyone doubt who the realtor was that resold these 1,200 acres for the PEC, undoubtedly making a tidy commission in the process? If one were to analyze the entire series of transactions, it is likely that Mr. Thomas made a profit in the neighborhood of $20 million dollars or more, and he received a prestigious award in the process.
So is the Piedmont Environmental Council really a conservation organization as they claim, or are they all about cronyism and control for the benefit and profit of their elite members?