Shining Rock hit with ‘no trespassing’ order
A damaged corn crop and a no trespassing order from a farmer’s lawyer could thwart Shining Rock Classical Academy’s goal of finding a permanent home for the new charter school by December.
All progress has halted on the future school site as the charter school board tries to settle a dispute with local farmer Jeremy Wilson for damaging his corn crop that is growing on the property.
Shining Rock is under contract to purchase 35 acres of farmland on the corner of U.S. 276 and Raccoon Road in Waynesville from Charles Collins. With the 75-day clock ticking for SRCA to determine if the site will be feasible, the Shining Rock board needed to begin performing environmental testing on the property as soon as possible.
However, Wilson has a lease on the same property until May 2016. He has grown corn on the property for several years to be able to feed his cattle and was shocked to discover last Monday that service trucks had plowed down rows of the crop when driving through to identify and mark sites where soil core drilling could be conducted the next day.
Wilson contacted the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and filed an incident report on July 27 when he first noticed the damage. According to the incident report, Wilson said Collins had been asking him if a company could come get core samples for the new school being built there in the near future. Wilson told officers he informed Collins that testing could be done after his corn crop was cut in October.
However, a neighbor called Wilson on July 27 and told him he saw a truck from Bunnell-Lammons Engineering parked near the field earlier that day.
The next day when drilling was supposed to occur, the site was surrounded by the trucks of many local farmers to keep more damage from happening.
Tara Keilberg, chairwoman of the SRCA school board, declined to comment on the situation.
“Attorneys for the parties are working together to find a resolution. Given [The Smoky Mountain News’] penchant for editorializing, we have no further comment,” she wrote in an email.
Shining Rock did post an open letter to Facebook on July 29 to parents and families to clear up the situation.
“From the onset of our due diligence period with this property, in conjunction with the property owners, we have been pursuing negotiations with Mr. Wilson in an effort to fairly compensate him for any damages to his crop,” the SRCA letter stated. “The last thing we want is for him to suffer financially when we start our studies and ultimately break ground. The property owners share this sentiment.”
Waynesville lawyer Frank Queen, representing Wilson, sent a letter to Collins Orchard and Shining Rock prohibiting them from trespassing on the property until Wilson’s lease is up next May.
“Knowing of the lease — and the growing corn crop being the best, most visible evidence of its existence — you ignored it,” Queen wrote. “You made a cold-blooded calculation that the financial damages that you would have to pay him would be worth it if you could go through with your transactions.”
When asked for an update on the situation on July 31, Queen said in an email that Wilson, the Collins and Shining Rock were discussing all the issues involved and trying to reach an agreement.
“The response I have from the letter is that the school is not going to have any further investigators on the site at this time,” he said. “They are apparently respecting the position of the tenant as expressed by me in my letter.”
It is unclear how the postponement of testing will affect Shining Rock’s timeline for getting the site ready for development.