AmericanFarm.com

PEC requesting confidentiality in Boneta case

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Staff Reporter

WARRENTON, Va. (Sept. 2) — A local environmental advocacy organization is asking a judge to protect its confidential information in court after a farmer sued the nonprofit last year, and claimed it illegally conspired with her farm’s previous owner to drive down the property’s value and strong-arm her into a discounted sale.
The Piedmont Environmental Council, based in Warrenton, submitted a protective order in Fauquier Circuit Court in April that would protect documents and information from trade secrets to personal data and information that must be kept secret due to outside contractual obligations.
Martha Boneta, owner of Liberty Farm, sued the organization and Phillip and Patricia Thomas last year.
The Thomases and the council are former owners of the 64-acre farm, which rests in Paris, Va., an unincorporated community in northern Fauquier County.
Boneta made news last year when she sued Fauquier County for denying her a farm sales permit to hold special events.
The suit led to a strengthening of the state’s Right to Farm laws nicknamed the “Boneta Bill,” protecting certain agricultural activities from local regulation.
Philip Thomas sold the farm to the Piedmont Environmental Council in 2000, and Boneta purchased it from the council about six years later as the Piedmont Agriculture Academy, according to the lawsuit.
Thomas also owned neighboring property — Liberty Hall — and struggled to find a buyer after renovating it for several years, the lawsuit said.
“Thomas believes ... that Liberty Hall’s proximity to [Liberty Farm] is the reason he has been unable to sell Liberty Hall for the amount sought,” the lawsuit said. “After selling [Liberty Farm] to the PEC for a large discount and the property ended up on the ownership of PAA, Thomas ... has engaged in a course of conduct, with the aid of the PEC, aimed at reclaiming [Liberty Farm] for less than its full value.”
Citing letters, Boneta claims Philip Thomas sought to buy the mortgage on her farm from the bank in 2009.
She said the Thomases complained to the Virginia Department of Transportation about a parking lot and two new entrances on the farm in an effort to get the department to find violations in 2007.
They also made false animal mistreatment allegations to a member of the county board of supervisors in 2009, the lawsuit said.
The suit also said the council filed a complaint the same year against Boneta, claiming she violated the terms of a conservation easement on her property by building an apartment inside of a barn.
The council and Thomas also tried to convince the county zoning administrator and other local government officials to cite the farm for zoning violations, the suit said.
Boneta is seeking damages of nearly $2 million.
Boneta and a lawyer representing the council declined to comment.
They are scheduled to be in court again Oct. 3.