9000 Acre Purchase by The Nature Conservancy, Bath County, Virginia

Comments to the Bath County Board of Supervisors, Warm Springs, Virginia

[2004, Note: At the invitation of Bath Supervisor Stuart Hall, these comments were made during the pendency of a purchase of 12,000 acres from Virginia Hot Springs, Inc., the owners of the historic resort, The Homestead, by The Nature Conservancy and Celebration Associates. The VHS shareholders voted to sell, and thus TNC took title to 9,000+acres of mountain and farm land while Celebration, an “upscale” land development company took title to approximately 3,000 acres. Celebration was the Disney developer for the town of Celebration in Florida, a “new urbanism” development which many critics and residents have seen as beset by a multitude of problems including disgust with the “price which people pay to live in an artificial-looking fairy tale”, with cookie-cutter social engineering, with ‘new-age’ schools and with oppressive, restrictive covenants on private property.]

Members of the Board:

Thank you for the invitation to attend your monthly meeting, and the opportunity to comment on issues involving the proposed sale of 9000+ acres to The Nature Conservancy.

The Virginia Land Rights Coalition is a private, not-for-profit, non-political organization primarily concerned with protecting the sanctity of private property rights in Virginia, and with educating Virginians, and all Americans, about the vital importance of the role of private property ownership in preserving a free society.

In recent years there has been an accelerating and concerted attack on property rights by federal and state governments, by bureaucratic agency regulations, and by a growing number of radical, self-anointed and elitist “environmental” NGOs (non-governmental organizations), such as TNC, whose goals are very much opposed to the principles of Constitutional government and the God-given rights of life, liberty and property which are protected by our Constitution.

Contrary to self-serving propaganda, their goals are not the conservation of our rural heritage and natural resources, for which generations of Virginians have sacrificed and worked, but to take those resources out of the hands of the free men and women and their families who built this land, and to ultimately transfer control and ownership to centralized government, including international governmental agencies such as the United Nations.

Included in their agenda is the erosion of the sovereignty of local government and a steady push for centralized control where landowners and residents will have less and less say in local affairs and where decisions will be made by unelected outside agencies and “stakeholders.”

The factual documentation to support these statements is overwhelming. I have prepared another packet of information for you, and hope you will find it helpful in understanding, in greater depth, the points brought out this evening. Please be assured that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who will objectively look at the news articles, official government documents, memoranda of understanding, and case studies can not fail to conclude that many of the “greens” are motivated by a lust for wealth, power and control; and that corruption, conflict of interest, secrecy and dishonesty are common denominators in many of their dealings. And again, I encourage you to make additional copies for county residents and Virginia Hot Springs stockholders, and I welcome anyone interested to contact me for more details.

TNC is the richest, largest and most politically powerful of all the radical environmental groups. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the welfare of the people and institutions of Bath County will be seriously jeopardized if TNC acquires title to the 9000 acres. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Bath County, Highland County and many of the surrounding counties in Virginia and West Virginia, in this region of the Allegheny Mountains, are specifically targeted by the radical environmentalists because of the low population, wealth of natural resources and scenic beauty; and, the lack of political clout when fighting to maintain viable independent county governments and local economies.

This all ties in with what is known as “The Wildlands Project”, and I strongly suggest if you have never heard of this plan, that you study the maps and documents pertaining to this United Nations supported scheme to “rewild” 50% of America, putting the land off-limits to man, (unless, of course, you are one of the privileged elite); to reintroduce wolves, grizzlies, and other “endangered species”; to close and rip out most roads; and to relocate rural populations to urban areas. This project is not some far-out, whacko fantasy. It is being carried out all across America, particularly in the rural West, by federal and state agencies and their environmentalist allies. Major “charitable foundations”, such as the Turner Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and W. Alton Jones Foundation, are providing grant monies. The radical greens, including The Nature Conservancy, have been deeply involved in the implementation of this project, and this region is in their sights.

In 2000, the tax-exempt TNC received $786 million in revenue, as much as its six nearest rivals combined, with assets of $2.8 billion, and it claims to have 92 million acres under its control. It claims to be a “private-sector, free-market” organization whose mission is saving environmentally sensitive land. In fact, much of its income is derived from taxpayer “grants”, income from securities and lucrative “flips” of purchased land to government agencies. In 1989, the Bureau of Land Management paid TNC $1.4 million for land it had simultaneously purchased for $1.26 million. Ken Smith, of The Washington Times, reports TNC bought the land with a $100 purchase option. “Wall Street investors in jail for insider trading never got a $140,000 return on a $100 investment.” Shades of Hillary Clinton’s cattle futures deal?

In 1992, the US Department of Interior’s Inspector General investigated land trust deals made by groups such as TNC and found that Interior had spent $7.1 million more than necessary between 1986 and 1991. In 1991, Missouri state auditors found the state had “paid $500,000 more than necessary on six land purchases from the Conservancy”. The auditors claimed there was a conspiracy to jack up the sales prices in violation of state financial regulations. In Texas, the Attorney General, Dan Morales, stripped TNC of its tax-exempt status because of similar activities.

Recently, the California chapter of TNC paid $35 million for the purchase of the 9,200 acre Staten Island, a privately owned corporate farm in the Sacramento area which is under intensive cultivation for crops and vegetables. TNC calls it a “demonstration farm” of little environmental significance, and will continue normal, for-profit commercial farming operations. CalFed, a state/federal agency, is putting up taxpayer’s dollars for the purchase. There will be little or no public access. Critics, including other environmental groups, question if there will be any public benefit. In fact, such taxpayer funded purchases are closer to fascist/socialistic exploitation of the land at the expense of truly private, free-market landowners.

The examples of this type of activity would fill many pages: using tax dollars to lobby local government in Florida, $1 million from the US Army to purchase “Conservation Easements” in Arizona, covert collusion in Nevada with USFWS and Del Webb Corporation of Arizona, the huge real estate developer, to acquire water rights from farmers. Food for thought…

Before moving on, there is one other incident deserving your attention. In 1994, TNC was found guilty by a federal judge of undue influence over a dying man. Dr. Frederic Gibbs, the developer of the electroencephalograph, willed a 95 acre farm to TNC. Apparently TNC helped Gibbs change his will after he became a mental incompetent.

Included in the literature are copies of just some of the Memoranda of Cooperation with US and international agencies. Note that the purpose of these agreements includes classification and inventory systems for plants, animals, resources, wetlands, watersheds, etc., and directly ties into the scandals which have extinguished tens of thousands of jobs, and decimated rural communities and economies based on agriculture, timbering and mining. The bio-fraud scandal involving the Canadian Lynx now has Washington, D.C. in an uproar; the fraud, involving falsified data, perpetrated against the Klamath Basin farmers in Oregon; the lies and deceptions employed by USFWS using horse meat to attract grizzly bears during bear counts; and evidence of cheating in spotted-owl studies in Oregon and Washington.

People are beginning to understand that much of the environmental assessment data being used to shut down rural America is junk-science and is being supported and promoted by groups such as TNC. But one of the saddest chapters in the recent history of “protecting the endangered species” involved last year’s forest fires in the Northern Cascade Range. Most Americans have not heard the story because of the massive cover-up by the Forest Service and black-out by the establishment news media. Four young firefighters died because the “endangered species people” argued, for over 8 hours, about allowing helicopters to dip water out of a river because some “endangered fish” might be dipped-up and dumped on the fire. The original 25 acre fire exploded to 2500 acres during that time. The deaths were a direct result of “environmental insanity”. You will find more details in the article, Blood on their Hands.

There are many questions which I believe Bath County officials and the people of Bath have every right to ask-- and every right to demand truthful answers from all the parties involved in this pending 12000+ acre land transaction. As far as I have been able to determine, there is a shroud of secrecy surrounding the deal. Local newspaper reports contain misinformation about the local tax base issue and little else of substance, apparently because the parties are keeping details “confidential.”

I want to stress that this is not, in my opinion, a private transaction, despite what the parties and their attorneys may say. TNC is a tax-exempt, taxpayer-funded, quasi-governmental entity. At the very least, 9000+ acres would be taken out of the county tax base, either entirely, or partially if TNC chooses to resell the land while retaining a “conservation easement”, thus depleting the assessable value. Or the land may be flipped to a government agency such as the USFS. I am not sure what percentage of the land area of Bath is in National Forest. Highland is approximately 30%, and little more needs to be said about the resulting loss of local tax dollars except that there has been some recent rumblings from Washington, D.C. about reductions in the PILT to local government. [Bath County is 52% federal and state land]

In addition, if precedent holds true in this case, I suspect when the dust settles there will be some very large and favorable federal and state tax incentives, inducements or credits going to one or more of the parties due to the involvement of TNC; that there may be other parties or government agencies involved in this transaction that are presently hidden from the public; and that TNC may even have plans to use tax dollars for the purchase of their portion. Obviously, the potential public impact would be tremendous.

TNC is wealthy, powerful and politically connected. Why—what is the real reason they want this land? What effect would their presence have on local decision making, local government sovereignty, and what would be the long-term, behind-the-scenes political influences exerted on the county? Would this purchase serve as a tactical “base of operations”? I believe it would, and would serve to allow an expansion of their land holdings and continued depletion of the tax base through further outright purchases and/or the use of “conservation easements”. There is some additional information here regarding this extremely dangerous legal fiction: the “conservation easement”, and if you have not read the other material, please take time to do so. Most perpetual CEs are purposely designed to transfer property from the private sector to government and are used by the so-called land trusts specifically for that purpose.

Why won’t TNC comment on their plans? Please give that question and their silence a good deal of thought.

Now, let’s take a look at Celebration Associates, the “developers.” They were hired by the Close family for the Clear Springs-Village of Baxter project near Fort Mills, South Carolina, a 6200 acre development. The Close family is the owner of Clear Springs Development Company with Celebration acting as “development management consultants” for Clear Springs.

Anne Springs Close and her children, according to information I have been able to obtain, are the heirs to her family’s Fort Mill textile company, Spring Industries. She is a Trustee of The Wilderness Society and a Director of the American Farmland Trust (please see the informative report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute), and has been very active and “involved in preservation efforts”. She and her family set aside 2300 acres of the 6200 acres for the Anne Springs Close Greenway, to be “preserved and protected in perpetuity” by Leroy Springs & Co., the operating foundation. The Greenway is part of a 20 year, “smart-growth model development” which includes a dairy barn renovated to accommodate 400 people for weddings, parties and gatherings, and six surrounding communities. The Sierra Club has given high praises to the Clear Springs development. The Close family seems to be deeply involved with the radical environmentalists.

I believe the basic concept of the Clear Springs development in South Carolina will give some indication of what could be in store for Bath County. I’ve also included some background materials on the Close family and Clear Springs. The 3000+ acres to be developed by Celebration, if indeed they really turn out to be the actual purchasers and developers—and please note that Don Killoren was and may still be the CEO of Clear Springs, owned by the Close family—would possibly include “greenways” or other substantial acreage to be set aside as “preserved open space” under the control of a tax-exempt land trust. Some of this information may be outdated and thus inaccurate, so I suggest that Board members may want to ask the involved parties for further information.

I’m sure all of you take your responsibility for the future welfare of Bath seriously. If this purchase were to go through, and if development plans for a long-term, 3000 acre project were to be approved by county officials, what changes would be in store? Who would be moving into the county? Would they have values and goals in tune with the rural traditions of this area? What services would they require or demand, public and private, and how would those demands affect local taxation. Would there be additional business and jobs created? None of these types of questions can be answered without information, and it seems to me that there is some degree of disingenuousness on the part of all the parties, particularly Celebration. No legitimate real estate developer is going to go into a deal like this without having done a great amount of “due diligence” investigation and planning beforehand. As for TNC, secrecy and back-room deals seem to be some of their trademarks.

More than anything else, the people of Bath need to know the truth, especially about the consequences of having TNC as a “neighbor”. I urge you to let the people know about the havoc caused by TNC and their “green” allies in other parts of the country, the destabilization and dismantling of rural America taking place across America, the transfer of more and more property from the private sector to government; and I urge you to speak with VHS shareholders to inform them of this potential disaster for Bath before they cast their vote.

And last, I suggest you seriously consider passing a local “no loss of private land” ordinance here in Bath County, just as many counties in other states have done. You, and other elected constitutional officers of the county have sworn an oath to protect the Constitutional rights of the people here. I believe that with the support of other county officials, in particular the sheriff, and an informed citizenry, you have the lawful power to halt any and all loss of private property within the county and to “nip in the bud” what could be a nightmare.

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you.