Fones Cliffs developer files for bankruptcy

Fones Cliffs in Richmond County, the site of a planned golf course development, has seen major erosion since the developer illegally cleared trees at the site. (Image via Chesapeake Conservancy)

The developer of a proposed golf course at the environmentally sensitive and historically significant Fones Cliffs on the banks of the Rappahannock River has filed for bankruptcy, court filings show.

On May 3, Benito Fernandez, the president of Virginia True Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.

According to an accompanying affidavit, the filing was “precipitated by certain threatened litigation with two former stockholders” of Virginia True, Domenick and Anthony Cipollone.

A $5 million promissory note held by the Cipollones matured six days before the bankruptcy filing.

Fones Cliffs are a four-mile outcropping of rock above the Rappahannock in Richmond County known for their striking white coloration, which is due to the presence of large quantities of diatomaceous earth, and their large numbers of bald eagles. They were also the site of an ambush by members of the Rappahannock tribe of an exploratory party led by Capt. John Smith in August 1608.

Fones Cliffs, the site of a planned golf course development, has seen major erosion since the developer illegally cleared the site. (Image via Chesapeake Conservancy)

Virginia True purchased 977 acres above Fones Cliffs from the Diatomite Corporation in May 2017 with the intention of turning the parcel into a luxury golf course and hotel. Six months later, Richmond County issued a stop-work notice against the company after it cleared 13.5 acres of trees near the cliffs without a permit.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality subsequently filed three notices of violation against Virginia True related to ongoing unpermitted land disturbance and failures to take corrective action.

Since the land disturbances, high levels of erosion and landslides have been observed at Fones Cliffs. Sediment pollution, which the state is obligated to limit under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, has also increased at the site.

In October, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General and DEQ filed a lawsuit against Virginia True in Richmond County Circuit Court for the company’s “repeated violations of the commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations.”

Virginia True’s bankruptcy filings list David Paylor, director of DEQ, as having the second-largest unsecured claim on the company, in the amount of $250,000, for the violations.

The company still retains ownership of the Fones Cliffs property.

DEQ and the Office of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to questions about what effect the bankruptcy will have on their ongoing suit against Virginia True.

The bankruptcy filing was first reported by The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg.