McCrory steps into dispute over NCSU forest sale

Posted September 17, 2014 4:38 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2014 4:43 p.m. EDT

The 79,000-acre Hofmann Forest in Jones and Onslow counties is the largest university-owned teaching and research forest in the world.

— Gov. Pat McCrory has stepped into a dispute over North Carolina State University's planned sale of the 79,000-acre Hofmann Forest, requesting that the buyers allow Marines from Camp Lejeune to continue using the forest for training.

Trustees of the NC State Natural Resources Foundation Inc. last week agreed to sell 56,000 acres of the forest to Resource Management Service, an Alabama company that specializes in sustainable timber management. The other 23,000 acres will be sold to Hofmann Forest LLC, an Illinois agribusiness company that plans to develop some of the site.

After a Tuesday meeting of the state Military Affairs Commission at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, McCrory said he has sent letters to the two buyers asking that the military continue to have access to the land for training.

Both buyers have already told the Department of Defense that they would be open to negotiating easements for airspace, blackout rights and other military activities on some of the 70,000 acres northwest of U.S. Highway 17 for training.

The forest was bought in the 1930s for research and to provide income for N.C. State's forestry program. University officials have said they want to sell the land because it hasn't generated enough revenue and isn't used very much anymore for research.

Opponents of the sale say N.C. State has downplayed Hofmann Forest's value, both for research and the environment in eastern North Carolina, and they quickly seized on McCrory's letters to add the forest's military use to their list.

"The military can't safely train in or over strip malls and subdivisions, and even developing part of Hofmann Forest would complicate flight paths and training missions," the group Save Hofmann Forest said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The group called on McCrory, state lawmakers and members of North Carolina's congressional delegation to use their influence over N.C. State to either block the sale or ensure that proper conservation easements are in place before any sale proceeds.

"State government will have very little leverage over these new owners once the land has been sold by N.C. State University," they said.