RALEIGH - Leaked documents after a recent pending sale of the Hofmann Forest have stirred up some controversy.
Former horticulture agent Jeffery Morton believes you can learn a lot from nature. He says a great learning environment is the Hofmann Forest in Onslow and Jones Counties.
North Carolina State University recently agreed to sell this land to what's now Hofmann Forest, LLC, for $150 million.
"It's a teaching forest, a research forest, and it's been maintained/set up and operated that way for the benefit of the forestry department," Morton said.
And he hopes it stays that way. But documents that have been leaded are the talk of the town -- documents that propse possible changes to how the forest is used. They suggest the chance of turning these trees into homes, a shopping center and agricultural land. And some like Morton fear what the company's real intentions are for the forest's future.
A company spokesman says the documents were compiled when the company first expressed interest in buying the forest -- but they now value the forest's original purpose.
"The document in question was specifically put together for Hofmann Forest, LLC," said Tom Percival, a spokesman for the comapny. "It is a document that was originated for internal purposes in early 2013 for use by Jerry Walker, as a Managing Member, and other members of the LLC in the process of their initial consideration of purchasing the property. The purpose of this document was to show Mr. Walker and other members the many different and synergistic aspects that Hofmann Forest possesses and its potential for various types of uses that have been identified over the years. As an example, the development plans in the document are renderings that were done many years ago by North Carolina State University as a general study and were not prepared by or for Hofmann Forest, LLC. Since this document was created, the LLC, under the guidance of Jerry Walker, has recognized the value of the Hofmann as a forest and has no plans to develop the property into a large commercial and residential community."
A representative from NC State also issued the following statement in response to the company's stance.
"In addition to this commitment, the property in question is zoned for conservation uses and any changes to accommodate such development would require a county public approval process. Throughout the sales process, NC State has negotiated in good faith, doing our best to ensure this sale will achieve the goals of preserving the legacy of the forest and allowing for the continuation of the current uses of the land, including opportunities for continued university research. The buyer has made publicly clear a commitment to honor these outcomes, which is consistent with the sales agreement signed by both parties."
Morton says the forest should be preserved, to protect the wildlife like bears, turkey and plants.
"The opportunity for people to experience a natural environment -- that's what's going away as a result of development," Morton said. "It's something that I guess, is irreversible in some sense. But this is an opportunity to where we can keep that from happening."
Camp Lejeune and New River marines also use the forest for flight and night-vision training. A base spokesman says he's confident the Marine Corps will still be able to do so. No matter who owns the forest, Morton hopes the legacy of Julius Hofmann, the one who created this forest, is upheld.
"When people create something for intent and purpose like Dr. Hofmann did, I think it's incumbent upon people to honor what that original individual had in mind," Morton said.
NewsChannel 12 asked officials how the documents were leaked in the first place. They say they don't know, and was probably an attempt to stop the sale. There is also a pending lawsuit between several professors and some involved with the forest -- also an attempt to stop the sale -- which is continuing through the courts at this time.