The $130 million deal to sell Hofmann Forest to an Illinois agri-businessman is dead.
The contract fell through after the buyer could not finalize the "financial contingencies of the contract," stated a news release, sent on behalf of the Board of Trustees for the Endowment Fund, which owns the forest.
The fund's board of trustees will continue to own the forest; it will be managed by the university's College of Natural Resources "for the benefit of academic programs."
N.C. State Director of Public Relations Fred Hartman said the board "will continue to consider the best interests of the college and its students going forward, which could include a future sale."
The announcement follows a year-long legal battle, after a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists brought a lawsuit against the forest's owners to stop the sale. The suit is being considered by the state Supreme Court.
Ron Sutherland, a conservationist for the Wildlands Network and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he was surprised by the announcement.
"We are excited we are through with this buyer and it gives everyone the opportunity to work together towards a path to a better decision-making process that ends in a result that is good for the forest and good for N.C. State,: Sutherland said.
The forest could be reopened for academic research and public use. The fund could sell a conservation easement on the forest, or sell the land to the state or the U.S. Forestry Service, Sutherland said.
The announcement doesn't negate the lawsuit. "Our lawsuit stays in effect until the Supreme Court issues a decision," Sutherland said. "We'd urge the Supreme Court to move forward." —Jane Porter
Mary Stevenson Keef never stood a chance.
After about 10 months and several out-of-court settlements, Keef, one of several plaintiffs suing the owners of the Velvet Cloak Inn for unfair trade practices, among other allegations, was left to fend for herself against the attorneys of David M. Smoot and his wife, Jean, in a hearing on Tuesday.
"If we had a trial, it would be an exercise in futility," said Ronald H. Garber, one of the Smoots' attorneys, during the calendar call Monday.
Garber was right.
Keef, a 64-year-old breast cancer survivor, didn't have the money to hire an attorney. She had been riding on the coattails of the other plaintiffs, most of whom were represented by Raleigh attorney Henry W. Jones Jr.
One by one, the Smoots settled out of court with all of the plaintiffs except Keef, whose two condos they are foreclosing on.
After a painful hour and a half, during which Keef floundered helplessly against the better-prepared and obviously better trained counsel of the Smoots, Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins dismissed the suit with prejudice, preventing Keef from filing another suit of the same claim.
However, following the dismissal, no one celebrated. Nobody hugged anybody. Nobody smiled. The victory seemed shallow. But perhaps winning never truly feels good when it means the eventual eviction of an elderly woman with health problems.
"I'm not surprised," said a disappointed Keef following the hearing. "I'll probably end up appealing."
Garber declined to comment about the hearing.
Following Garber's advice, the Smoots also declined to comment. They didn't leave the courtroom until Garber made sure Keef and her friends had left the hallway outside. —Sam DeGrave