Conservation Voters Endorse Kaine, Deeds and Four Delegates

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Tim Kaine for governor, Creigh Deeds for attorney general, and the following four candidates running in House of Delegates primaries:

  • Joe May, R-Leesburg
  • David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, running for Mitchell Van Yahres’ seat
  • Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, running in Viola Baskerville’s seat
  • Peter Schmidt, R-Virginia Beach, running against GOP incumbent Harry Purkey

Said Executive Director Lisa Guthrie: “These candidates … demonstrate a whole-hearted commitment to conservation in the commonwealth.” The League hasn’t posted the press release online yet (that I can find), but here’s the website.

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  1. Far more important for these guys is the June 8th hearing in the Senate on conservation easements…

    …this is the nuclear option for conservationists.

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    You’ve got to love how these groups leverage their endorsements for maximum effect.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    paul: how can I learn more about that hearing?

  4. Steven Avatar

    Timing is everything. But this is an early bird special for the VaLCV. Paul is probably right (again), it’s more than likely, a nuclear option concerning the conservation easements.

    Do you suppose Paul might have some insider information?


    ~ the blue dog

    Btw, the blue dog turns a shade of green occasionally and lobbies for this tree-hugging organization.

  5. Ray: It’s not technically scheduled yet but all signs point towards June 8th in the Senate Finance committee. If you want to affect the outcome of this issue, write a letter or call a member of the Senate Finance and ask to speak to their tax staffer…

    Unfortunately, nobody in VA is on that committee. So it’s a bit tough…the biggest threat to easements (both conservation and so-called facade easments) is in the Senate. But it wouldn’t hurt to contact the House. Eric Cantor is the only member from VA on the Ways and Means committee.

    Those of you who don’t know this issue…there have been some non-profit abuses of conservation and facade easements. For example, the Nature Conservancy had a problem a year ago and the National Architectural Trust (not a highly respected group) was caught collecting rubbish facade easements a few months back. The Post covered the facade issue last December.

    Following the controversy, Senator Grassley and others recommended reforming the easement process and perhaps capping easements at 5% of assessed value. Most preservation groups (with integrity) agreed. A 15% tax write off for protecting a facade is a bit excessive…

    Then joint committee on taxation surprised everyone a couple of months ago by writing a report that recommended completely doing away with conservation and preservation easements. This goes WAY too far and doesn’t have much of a chance of passing…but in today’s budget climate, you never know.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I’m aware of the abuses of conservation easements, golf courses getting huge write offs as conservation areas, wealthy owners taking write-offs for conservation areas that amount to privacy buffers for their fabulous homes, cushy deals with conservation agency officials, conservation easements that are really proffers in exchange for massive development, etc. In other cases easements are granted exactly because the owner has no intention of developing anyway: why not take the money?

    There are small conservation agencies that amount to little more than family trusts. If they grant an easement there is little or no oversight as to whether the terms of the agreement are kept.

    Then there is the other side of the story. A man in PA farmed land with an easement for many years. When he retired he wanted to build a home and move to the farm, but his conservation agency refused. The agreement said he was allowed to construct farm related buildings, so he convinced a court that a farmhous was farm related. After he built his home the conservation agency appealed the ruling and won, with the reslut that a 75 year old man got to watch his home get bulldozed.

    In another case an easement on a western farm operated without problems for years, the original grantor died and his son operated the ranch as his father had always done. A new board of directors at the conservation agency took exception to some long established farm practices (herding cattle with four-wheelers) and a lawsuit resulted.

    Near my home town a town established a greenbelt around the town with an easement. They are now petitioning the legislature to have the easement removed in favor of affordable housing.

    In Virginia a woman who owned land under easement died, and her heirs took no interest in the land. The area around had developed and the site became a dumping ground. The conservation agency has no interest in cleaning up the mess. The estate is petitioning to have the easement removed and replaced with another one in a less populated area.

    It turns out that bad planning can apply to conservation just as it does to habitation.

    Easements take the use of the land out of public control. While conservation groups frequently argue in favor of full public participation when it comes to development, they want just the opposite when it comes to conservation. Effectively, granting an easement removes the right to vote on future use of the land to every subsequent landowner. Easements are going to be the full employment act for our grandchildren’s lawyers.

    Even with a few identified problems, voluntary conservation easements have a valuable place. I submit that no one in their right mind would suggest developing Central Park, for example, but Central Park is a public space, not a private one.

    Where I really depart is when easements are forced and not voluntary. Depending on what set of development rules I go by, my property has differing numbers and kinds of development rights. But the most minimal use, building one modest home on a small lot for the purposes of enhancing the farm use, has a county REQUIREMENT that I grant a permanent easement on more than 150 acres of land.

    The costs of grantng the easement (surveys, lawyers, etc.) are more than the value of the resulting lot, and this option permanently precludes all the other options. The other options require that I subdivide the entire farm into large lots. It is no wonder that farmers throw up their hands and surrender to developers. In my opinion this is fundamentally nuts and envrironmentally unsound, plus, it’s not what I want or can afford.

    As a result of the rule, I’m forced into a de facto conservation mode, but without the benefits that would accrue if I were wealthy enough to use them.

    In this case, the county holds the easement, not an agency. The county can give the easement to an agency. If they do not, under the rules, the county administrators can rescind it some time in the future. It does not take much imagination to think of what that could lead to, down the road, after large tracts of the county have been forced into conservation under these rules.

    You can bet I’ll fire off a few letters to members of the committee.

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