Letter: The land issues: go deeper

I have read with interest the articles on the editorial page of the Rappahannock News over the past several months.

I have had the benefit of being born and raised in Rappahannock County and have watched different proposals presented by government and individuals over the years, and while I personally favor the concept of scenic easements, there are two types of people who generally grant these easements.

While there are some altruistic people who have donated easements for eleemosynary (charitable) reasons, there are also people who do it for short-term economic benefit — real or perceived.

For anyone to describe a person’s point of view concerning scenic easements as “fear-mongering” is about as unreasonable as one can get — especially when one looks objectively at some of the interpretations of scenic easements, where anything is possible.
A scenic easement is tax deductible because generally it is granting a public benefit — so then why should the public not have the right to enjoy it?

Looking at the application of constitutional law in today’s society, one can rapidly conclude that constitutional law is whatever is politically expedient at the present moment. Unfortunately, it is probably the same for scenic easements.

Depending on the political environment, I must say Mike Massie’s statements might be minimizing the problems that future generations will have. If people knew that in the future a court would rule that all land in conservation easement would be subject to general use by the public — how many people would grant a conservation easement?

Can anyone say that a court in the future will not make such a ruling? Before proceeding with an easement, everyone should read the article by Dana Joel Gattuso, “Conservation Easements: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” available on www.nationalcenter.org.

I don’t believe that the average grantor of a scenic easement views all the possible pitfalls and problems of granting a scenic easement If there were no problems with scenic easements then why would someone as erudite on easements as Robert Dennis have to amend his easement after only a few years?

A grant of scenic easements is one in perpetuity, to wit: forever, which seems like a long time to me, since the earth is billions of years old. I can barely guess what is going to happen next week.

Common Law (common sense), which the laws of this country are based upon, did not allow for a conservation or scenic easement.
Mike Massie’s farm has been in his family for generations and his tie to the land, I believe, is more emotional than economic. However, to be a farmer one must be grounded in both the land and understand basic economics.

When giving a conservation easement you are basically creating a partnership with the entity taking the easement and the state and federal government.

Historically, partnerships do not usually turn out well when there are such divergent interests. Anyone who trusts that the federal or state government or the courts will follow the intent of the donor is going to be sadly surprised.

Economically, in my view, scenic easements are only profitable if the property is flipped in a relatively short term. After that, if the initial appraisal is fair, the grant will become a liability on the overall value of the property because of the taxation issues surrounding the transfer.

My opinion as to the true effects of scenic easements, I am sure, will not be viewed as popular by a great number of the readers of this paper — but I am tired of hearing only one side of the argument. Easements are a tool that should only be used in very limited circumstances, but they are a grant that lasts forever.

Bill Fletcher

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