Statewide: Eastern region, December 2014

 In 2014-12

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The forest for the trees

Legal wrangling over N.C. State University’s plan to sell its 79,000-acre research forest near Jacksonville for $140 million is coming to a head. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few months whether to require an environmental-impact study of Hofmann Forest, which was assembled by the first dean of N.C. State’s School of Forestry in 1934. The university argues the land is not subject to state law requiring a study that would prolong the dispute. Activists, including N.C. State forestry professor Fred Cubbage, filed a lawsuit to block the sale in 2013. University officials want the money to enrich N.C. State’s $884 million endowment as funding from state government declined to 34% of the total budget in 2013-14 versus 42% in 2008-2009. The highest-profile opponent of the sale may be former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who called it “an impending blunder” and urged the state or an environmental group to buy the property. The university altered its initial plans to sell the land to Danville, Ill.-based agribusiness investor Jerry Walker, whose intentions are unclear. Plans now call for selling 56,000 acres to Resource Management Service, a Birmingham, Ala.-based timber operator, with Walker owning the rest. “If this was a private property with 79,000 acres and conservationists could save two-thirds for conservation, we’d be excited,” says Ron Sutherland, a scientist in Durham with Seattle-based environmental group Wildlands Network and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “In this case, we’re starting with land that’s already owned by state government, so we’re not really willing to compromise.”

Update: Following publication of this article, N.C. State canceled its plan to sell Hofmann Forest to Walker and Resource Management Service. The university indicated it plans to seek another buyer.


Briefs

RAEFORDHouse of Raeford planned to close its local cooked-turkey-processing plant Dec. 9, letting go 416 people. The Rose Hill-based company cited increased expenses and decreased demand. After the plant closes, the poultry processor will employ 5,300 in four states, including 1,800 in North Carolina.

KINSTONDuPont will invest $30 million and create 18 jobs over three years at its 61-year-old local plant, where it makes polymers for fibers used in apparel, carpets and automotive interiors. Average annual salary will be more than $60,000, almost double Lenoir County’s $32,744. The Wilmington, Del.-based chemical company employs more than 750 people in the state, including 84 here.

WILSON — Mark Holmes became CEO of Cornerstone Bank and holding company CB Financial. He was chief executive for nine years of Greenville-based Select Bancorp, which was acquired in July by Dunn-based New Century Bancorp. He replaces Norm Osborn, Cornerstone’s president since its formation 14 years ago, who was fired in June by the bank’s board of directors. Cornerstone operates a single office here.

WILMINGTONCBS Television will film the third season of Under the Dome beginning in the first quarter of 2015. The TV drama, which spent more than $33.3 million locally and received $8.3 million in tax incentives in its first season in 2013, employs about 150 on its set at EUE/Screen Gems Studios.

WILMINGTONGE Hitachi signed a contract valued at about $300 million with Chicago-based Exelon Generation. The nuclear-services company based here will provide maintenance for Exelon’s 14 nuclear power plants. GE Hitachi was formed in 2007 as a joint venture between Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric and Tokyo-based Hitachi and employs about 2,000 here. Exelon announced in September a $500 million gas-turbine order with GE.

PENDER COUNTYTriHabitat will build a triathlon training center on 1,100 acres along the Cape Fear River, where it plans to host endurance-sporting events such as kayak and cycling races beginning in 2016. The Kure Beach-based company is partnering with Charleston, S.C.-based Alchemy Global Holdings to help raise capital for the project, which will include a 25-acre swimming lake, a 14-mile bike loop, five outdoor stadiums, cabins and a 20-room lodge and conference center.

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