RALEIGH — A Wake County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit that would have blocked N.C. State University from selling the 79,000-acre Hofmann Forest near Jacksonville.
“The role of this Court is not to decide whether the sale of Hofmann Forest is wise or ill-advised,” wrote Judge Shannon R. Joseph in her decision, which was issued Friday afternoon. “Rather, this Court must decide whether the North Carolina law on which the Plaintiffs rely would entitle them to relief assuming their allegations are true. In this case it would not.”
The opponents of the $150 million deal had contended that the land was state property, and that under law, the sale was subject to environmental review. The land drains into three sensitive watersheds and is home to important populations of wildlife, including black bears and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.
They said it was likely that the buyer, a new company headed by an Illinois farmer, would develop thousands of acres and chop down trees on most of the rest to turn it into cropland.
Opponents also pointed to a leaked prospectus that the buyer, Hofmann Forest LLC, had created to attract investors. The prospectus said there was potential for more than 2 million square feet of commercial development and more than 10,500 homes, along with terrific soil for crops if the trees were removed.
A spokesman for the company said the prospectus was outdated, and its plans were now to continue growing trees and to sell easements to the military so that troops could continue training over and on much of the property.
The forest was bought beginning in the mid-1930s by a private foundation for timber farming to support forestry programs at the university, then gifted to the university endowment.
University officials said they wanted to sell it because investing the proceeds could yield substantially more income and a steadier stream of money than timber sales.
Conservation scientist Ron Sutherland of Durham, one of the plaintiffs, said Saturday that the opponents of the deal needed to consult with their attorneys before deciding whether to appeal the decision.