A Wake County judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction Tuesday to block the sale of the Hofmann Forest. However, the sale cannot go forward until a separate lawsuit is resolved.
The forest's owners, N.C. State University's Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund and the North Carolina State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc., filed a separate motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists who say the environmental impacts of the sale could be significant.
Superior Court judge Shannon Joseph said she would take the motion to dismiss the complaint under advisement.
A sales agreement that emerged two weeks ago stipulates that the lawsuit must be resolved before N.C. State can sell the 80,000-acre property near Jacksonville to Jerry Walker, head of the Illinois-based farming empire Walker Ag Group. The contract states the deal must close within six months.
Walker's family-run ag business operates in at least 23 counties in in seven states, but he has indicated that he does not intend to develop the forest for agriculture. Lawyers from the state attorney general's office said Walker only wants to negotiate for an easement for U.S. military use of the property "at arm's length."
But the sales agreement does not mandate that Hofmann Forest remain a working forest, nor are there any provisions in the contract barring development or farming.
Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist for the Wildlands Network and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he would be surprised if, down the road, "some level of agriculture is not attempted on the property."