A company that has a deal to buy a 79,000-acre forest from North Carolina State University may have wanted to turn more than half of it into suburban cul-de-sacs, office buildings and corn farm lands, according to a company document leaked this week.
The plans, outlined in an prospectus addressed to potential investors, apparently contradicts statements the buyer, Hofmann Forest LLC, and the university have made saying the timber forest near Jacksonville in Onslow County would be protected in a potential sale.
"The four main uses [for the land] are timber, agricultural conversion, development and the selling of development rights,” the document says. “There are plenty of opportunities to generate significant revenue over time.”
The land, which the private N.C. State Natural Resources Foundation donated to the university’s endowment in 1977, has been the center of a heated battle since an agreement was made to sell it for $150 million earlier this year to a company with ties to the Illinois-based agribusiness company Walker AG. A spokesman told the News & Observer of Raleigh last week that the company planned to use the tract as a working forest and to sell the military rights to use much of it for low-level training flights. The forest is near Marine Corps. Base Camp Lejeune.
A group of conservationists sued the university earlier this year, claiming the sale should be blocked until a study was commissioned to determine the potential environmental effect of a sale. Hofmann Forest is home to three sensitive watersheds and the habitat of many species, including a large population of black bears and rare Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.
“We’re very vindicated now that we’ve seen this prospectus,” said Ron Sutherland, one of the plaintiffs in the suit and a conservation scientist with the Wildlands Network. “The lawyers for the natural resources foundation and for NC State are not going to be able to sit there in court anymore and say, ‘The agreement is great. It protects the forest.’ ”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the company said the document had been produced for internal use earlier this year, and that it has since recognized the value of the forest “and has no plans to develop the property into a large commercial and residential community.”
Also in a statement Thursday, NC State spokesman Brad Bohlander said the university was unaware of the prospectus and was contacting the buyer to determine whether the document reflects its current intended use for the land.