The Dangers of Conservation Easements

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From Jack B. Weaver
Rural Retreat, Va.

I have a story to share on Conservation Easements.  In fact, here in Southwestern Virginia every time I get an opportunity to do so I tell anyone considering a conservation easement to run like a thief in the night, starting tonight, as that is the worst possible thing they could do to land they own.  Our farm dropped from a value of $7,000 to $8,000 per acre due SOLELY to the conservation easement to $700.00 per acre.  A drop of 90% - AND ONLY DUE TO THE EASEMENT. Land on each side of us is appraised at $6,000 to $8,000 per acre. Without the easement our land value would be at over $8,000 per acre.  We had two different farm realtor's and appraisers to assess our property and they set the value at $700.00 per acre and for sure they said it would not bring over $1,200 per acre at best and this is a landscaped 95 acre farm, a perfect farm with over 12 years of work and over $1,000,000 put into it such as 1/5 mile of white vinyl fence.  In fact, we can't even get a loan on it, I know, we tried, and should we sell it there is NO WAY anyone could borrow money to buy it if they were using the land as collateral.  It has perfectly ruined our value in the property.  Fact is, we can not sell it EVER as the amount one is willing to pay due to the conservation easement IS FAR, FAR LESS then our actual cash investment into the property not counting 12 years of work.

Banks and Farm Credit in public will say they are for Conservation Easements that is totally spin doctoring and I can prove that without a shadow of a doubt.

Recently I was at a meeting in Abingdon, Va where Mrs. Sandra J. Adams, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services was a speaker spouting the values of conservation easements.  I had to speak up on this and tell her she was wrong and I followed it with a letter to Mrs. Adams who replied.  "I appreciate your family's desire to preserve your farm and am sorry to hear of the difficulties you have experienced.  Conservation easements are legal documents that voluntarily limit the use of property to preserve agriculture, forest, natural, or culture aspects found on land. Conservation easements are an effective tool for addressing the loss of agriculture land to non-agriculture uses in Virginia.  Landowners need to understand the benefits and possible limitations of conserving their land."

 While I was lead to believe that at most one would have a loss of possibly 10% on their land, I understood that but not a loss of 90% and in fact the land becomes almost non-salable once in a conservation easement. unless you just want to donate it to some cause as a tax write off.   And to leave what you think is value to your heirs, well one just trashed that opportunity in a conservation easement program. Conservation easement people are not truly honest to people and appraisers in general just write off most value to land in rural areas that have conservation easements, certainly so here in Southwestern Virginia as I have spent hours upon hours talking to realtors and appraisers in the last 12-18 months regarding easements.  In fact, these lands that are in easements will eventually become liabilities as the cost to maintain the properties versus the returns are not there and they will become either run down properties or abandoned properties and loss of revenue properties to both the owners and tax collecting bodies - of that - I am sure.  In fact, funding for Conservation Easements should be totally dropped completely. Conservation Easements are ONLY valuable for very wealthy people and those involved in the selling of tax credit and land management.    The cons far, far outweigh the pros.

Actually what we have is "No Man's Land".  Can't keep it, can't get a loan, can't sell it (well, of course it could be sold for 700.00 an acre and maybe 200,000 for buildings, so for $200,000 or $300,000 someone would get a 1.5 million dollar farm plus or minus for $200,000 or $300,000

Really and truly, Conservation Easement will break us. Conservation Easements are a legalized Ponzi scheme.   No doubt of that.

 I would be glad to testify with factual information should such arise.  PLEASE, PLEASE GET THE INNOCENTS OUT OF CONSERVATION EASEMENTS.

Thanks, Jack