According to WRAL and WITN this sale is a done deal. Maybe not. Is the sale in the best interest of the state, its citizens, and the environment? We do not know because the studies that are usually required for such actions by state entities or involving state money have not been done. Should they be done?
Hofmann Forest, Public or Private?
Is Hofmann Forest public or private? Is the owner a state entity that must play by all the rules required of a state entity, or is the owner a private entity owing 80 years of back taxes to Onslow and Jones Counties? Should the owner be allowed to pick and choose which set of rules apply depending upon what is favorable to them in any given situation? Debate about whether the ownership of the Hofmann Forest is public or private seems moot given that the owner has not paid county property taxes, claiming exemption as a state entity.
The North Carolina (or State) Environmental Policy Act of 1971 (SEPA)
If the Forest is public land, as it appears to be based on property taxation alone, it should be subject to The North Carolina (or State) Environmental Policy Act of 1971 (SEPA) (G.S. 113A, Article 1). SEPA requires State agencies to review and report the environmental effects of all activities that involve an action by a State agency, an expenditure of public monies or private use of public land, and that may have a potential negative environmental effect on natural resources, public health and safety, natural beauty, or historical or cultural elements of the State.
Significant changes of land use on 80,000 acres, or even a much smaller percentage of the whole, could have significant impacts on the quantity and quality of water leaving the Forest. The Forest drains to the New River, The Trent River (Neuse), and The White Oak River. All of these watersheds are sensitive and important. The White Oak River was once nominated for designation as a Wild and Scenic River.
Hofmann is a significant historical and cultural resource for the state. It is unique as a research forest. It is historically and culturally significant based on the time and means by which it was acquired.
Hofmann is also a connecting link in a much larger ecosystem. Look at aerial photography of the area. There are several large relatively undeveloped areas – Croatan-Hofmann-Camp Lejeune-Holly Shelter. Each of these areas are have significant and important habitats and functions, but when linked, they create a system that is greater than the sum of its parts.
ARTICLE XIV MISCELLANEOUS, Sec. 5. Conservation of natural resources.
It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.
There is no doubt that Hofmann is scenic and that development or change of use could significantly increase pollution of air and water. The possible region affected includes the coast from Topsail Island to Okracoke; the cities of Jacksonville, Swansboro, New Bern, Trenton, and Morehead City; the water bodies of Bouge Sound, Pamlico Sound, and the previously mentioned rivers and watersheds. This is simply based on the fact that water flows downhill and that there is a strong correlation between more intensive land use and degradation of water and air quality.
A Done Deal?
Maybe not. One thing is clear, once the deal is done, there will be no going back. There may be irreparable harm done to an entire region. Harm that, if properly evaluated as would be required under SEPA, would likely demonstrate the $150 million price tag to be paltry sum and a huge net loss to the state as a whole. If you are downstream of Hofmann Forest, you will be on the receiving end of whatever leaves the Forest. Do you know what that will mean for you? Nobody knows for sure because the needed studies have not been done. Qualitatively, it is obvious that if land use changes are made, there will be some effect. If future land use is more intense and developed, the effect will be negative.
Setting a Good Ethics Example?
Even if this sale were a good deal for NCSU, would it not be ethically wrong for the university, or any of its foundations, boards, or associated entities, to proceed with the sale without full information on the immediate and cumulative impacts of the sale. Is that the kind of example an institution of higher learning should set?
A Great Loss or a Great Example of Financial Wisdom?
Hofmann Forest is an irreplaceable asset with immense intrinsic and intangible value which may only fully be revealed in the future. If the sale goes through, will history judge this sale as a great example of enlightened financial management by a public institution or will it be judged as one of the most profound blunders of an institution of higher learning and of a state government and political leaders that let it happen.
If the sale does go through, will it serve as a warning siren to those selfless individuals like Julius Valentine Hofmann, who worked to bring this prize to the university in the first place. His legacy is being trampled and his vision ignored by the very institution he sought to enrich. Will the sale engender confidence in the institution and make future selfless efforts by others more likely?