Land And Water U.S.A.




Tuesday, March 1, 2016

THE CURSE OF CONSERVATION EASEMENTS

Conservation Easements
By J. D. Wright
 
I think it is time to respond to the news articles, commentaries, and Denver Post Editorial Staff belittling the plight of farmers and ranchers in trouble for placing conservation easements on their property and having the tax credits rejected by the Colorado Department of Revenue. That said, I will try to shed a little light on the subject from the point of view of one of those farmers who participated in the program in its early days.
Joyce and I are still farming and running a small herd of cows with the help of one of our daughters and her family on the place that has been home to me since 1950 and has for the most part provided us with a decent living and a heritage to be proud of; two daughters and two son-in-laws, seven grandchildren, all industrious self-reliant, honest, and productive individuals. Our participation in the conservation easement program was an effort to keep the farm in place for our posterity.
 
In 2003 we were approached by the Palmer Land Trust to participate in the Conservation Easement program.  We agreed to place an easement on our property in the summer of 2003, long before the Department of Revenue started alleging or accusing folks of impropriety.  At the time, Palmer Land Trust and others were promoting a conservation program titled “Peak to Plains” and are still promoting conservation easements to support the program.  The Land Trust sent a gentleman to our area, “northeast Pueblo County” to explain the benefits of conserving our environment with conservation easements and to support the program. My wife and I have been lifetime residents of Pueblo County and wanted to see our land and farming history in Colorado protected.  Being lifetime resident of the area, we had seen damaging changes to our land and community, some natural like drought and dust storms, but others man-made such as land investors, oil lease peddlers, seismograph trucks damaging our domestic water wells, etc.  We had land, but not a lot of income, and the additional funds promised in exchange for a conservation easement would allow us – after years of crop loss - to fix up some of the infrastructure on our place.  We felt and were convinced that preserving our plains environment was important for the present and the future.  So, we signed on to the program
 
We did all the right things and all the things required by the program in 2003.  Palmer Land Trust provided us with a checklist of items to complete and those dates and deadlines.  The Land Trust provided us with the names of professionals we could hire to complete those tasks, such as providing a list of appraisers licensed by the State of Colorado to appraise our land,(1) a baseline preparer (2 on the list), attorneys who could draft the conservation easement deed (3-4 on the list) and the name of a geologist. All were highly recommended and had excellent resumes.
 
We hired an appraiser, at our own cost.  We hired an attorney, at our own cost.  We completed all necessary paperwork, at our own time and cost, based on the rules and regulations created by the State of Colorado.  Job done! We filed our income tax documents for the previous year, submitting all the necessary documents with the filing and were provided with an IRS 8283 document declaring how many dollars of tax credits we had available to sell.  We again followed the procedures established by the State of Colorado, submitting the form 8283 to a tax credit broker with a contract, provided by him, to sell our tax credits at a 20% commission to be split between the broker and the buyer.
 
All seemed to go well, the process was complied with and fully completed.  Then, out of the blue, without any warning we received a call from an unidentified man on behalf of a small cartel of credit brokers and their hired appraisers, stating they would not honor our tax credits. When ask to explain the decision, this man stated the land appraisal was so sub-par it couldn’t be accepted and couldn’t even be fixed.  This was quite a shock given that our appraisal was completed by an authorized and trained appraiser duly licensed by the State. 
 
When asked to explain why the appraisal was sub-par, this individual became very agitated and hung up the telephone, never to be heard from again.  Not knowing what to do, but unable to just give up, I called Lola Spradley the sponsor of the conservation easement bill and asked for an explanation.  Ms. Spradley directed me to Larry Kueter, the attorney for the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT). I then contacted Mr. Kueter and found that not only was his organization in agreement with the broker’s position, but that CCLT helped to establish the broker position.  Mr. Kueter, on behalf of CCLT, not only refused to discuss the discrediting of appraisals but became extremely nasty when I inquired as to whom I could speak with on behalf of the State regarding such matter.  Mr. Kueter also stated that there was no one I could go to in the State government for assistance because the program had been designed to be run by the brokers and CCLT alone.  Essentially, CCLT helped create a “state” program, but wrested control of it to prevent State bureaucrats looking over their shoulders.  All of this was long before the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR) or the State Appraisal Board began tossing out perfectly good and compliant appraisals. In my opinion this cartel of brokers, appraisers, and land trusts have been running the program from the very beginning and still are with the help and manipulations of the CDOR and the AG’s office.
 
All the nonsense of overvalued appraisals and violations of “USPAP” is a trumped up and fabricated argument for the “cartel” of CCLT, brokers, a small group of appraisers and CDOR to steal private property without providing just compensation.  This group conspired to discredit the legitimate, but outside appraisers,
who were willing to perform conservation easement appraisals at lower fees than appraisers on the “in” with CDOR or land trusts. And take back control. The small cartel sought: (1) to monopolize the appraisal industry, by the discredit of the many to the benefit of the few; (2) to take control and fees from the smaller rural accounting firms who were marketing the tax credits and move business to the “selected” brokers; and (3) to place control in the hands of a limited few to determine which of our State land bases were deemed important enough to preserve using State resources/funds.  The monopolization of the few, for power and money, have destroyed good, honest appraisers and damaged anyone who would use them.  While the State and CCLT have negated the validity of legitimate appraisals/appraisers, they have failed to refer the majority to the licensure board – an inconsistency that cannot be overlooked.  But, these actors hold to the fallacy that if you tell a lie long enough and often enough, you can convince the gullible uniformed of its truth.
 
The harm to our historic families, our ranchers and farmers is real.  Folks have lost their homes and farms because of the improprieties of state and land trust actors.  We have lost our life savings, any way to retire, help our children and grandchildren go to college.  We were not afforded with a process that would allow us to show the right and correctness of our actions or that would protect us as citizens of this State.  We have been cast out, accused of fraud, disdained, bullied and threatened by the very State employees for whom our tax moneys provide a salary.   All of this, because we acted as good stewards of the land we hold and because of our loyalty to a way of life that helped found this State. 
 
There were several legislators in the recent hearings that were appalled by the vicious treatment of landowners and indicated the situation should be adjudicated in a court of law, and that is exactly what is happening now “Landowners United Advocacy Foundation” a non profit 501(c)(4) public interest entity established to help those landowners harmed by the conservation easement law that was implemented, then changed, then reinterpreted and implemented with great harm to benefit the few.  We would appreciate any support either monetary or cheer leading and Prayers that you feel so inclined to offer.  You may contact us at:
 
Landowners United Advocacy Foundation
15465 County Ln. 1                     
 Phone 719-263-5449
Olney Springs CO 81062              
landownersunited@gmail.com     

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