SWANSBORO — The pieces are rapidly falling into place to complete the state’s long-awaited $10.1 million addition of 289 mainland acres to Hammocks Beach State Park.
The N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority at its Dec. 5 meeting gave the state Division of Parks and Recreation another $1.06 million for the purchase. According to Charlie Peek, a spokesman for the division, that brings the fund’s contribution to $3.96 million.
The N.C. General Assembly this year allowed the division to sell $3 million in bonds for the purchase. That still leaves the state about $3.1 million short.
David Pearson, president of Friends of the Hammocks and Bear Island, the park’s volunteer support group, said last week that the group is trying to raise some or all of the remaining money from local sources.
“Onslow County has previously agreed to help, but I don’t know how much, and we’re not exactly sure how that will work,” he said. Other sources of funds mentioned in the past included conservation groups and the Marine Corps..
The friends group, Pearson said, will be actively seeking the local aid. He added, though, that The Conservation Fund, which has an office in Chapel Hill, has indicated in the past that it would be able to make up a temporary shortfall.
Bill Holman, state director of the fund confirmed last week that was still true, although exact details have not yet been finalized. In essence, the fund would “hold” some of the property, if necessary, until the state and the friends group could fund the entire purchase.
The Conservation Fund is an environmental nonprofit with a dual charter to pursue environmental preservation and economic development. Since its founding in 1985, the organization has protected more than 7 million acres of land and water in all states.
Pearson said it felt good to be getting close to making the dream of the purchase a reality.
“But it’s felt like it was ‘close’ for six or eight years,” he said. “It’s been a roller-coaster. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”
All of this was made possible by an out-of-court settlement signed on June 11 by the state and the Hurst and Turner families of Onslow County, which signaled an end to a long legal battle.
Under the agreement the state Superior Court, where the case has resided since 2010, was asked to end the case and award the property to John H. Hurst and Harriet Hurst Turner. It was then up to them, Pearson said, to obtain clear title to the land, which might have claims by others.
While Pearson couldn’t confirm reports that Hurst and Turner have obtained that necessary clear title, he said Friday that he has been told they have been successful.
Francis, the attorney for the families, did not return phone calls seeking a comment.
But, Pearson said, once it is official that a clear title has been obtained, the next step would be to ask the state court system to dismiss the case. He hopes that it can be done by March. The state then would have 90 days to close the purchase. The state could own the property as early as June.
However, Pearson added, if a clear title cannot be obtained, the out-of-court agreement calls for the state to condemn the property and still award the money to Hurst and Turner.
The mainland acquisition would represent about a 25 percent increase in the total size of the park. More importantly, though, it represents close to a 1,000 percent increase on the mainland.