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Watauga Jury: Genesis ‘Entitled To Recover $211,142’ from Town of Beech Mountain for Violating Due Process Rights

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 24, 2014. On Tuesday in Watauga County Superior Court, a unanimous jury agreed that Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary is entitled to recover $211,142 from the Town of Beech Mountain for violating the substantive due process rights of Genesis when the town established and enforced the Buckeye Lake Protection Ordinance.

“We are pretty happy,” Leslie Hayhurst, director of the wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release center, said on Wednesday. “We are going back over [to our former home near Buckeye Lake] to rebuild cages and start again. It will be a [multi-year] project, but the good thing is at least we can do it.”

Genesis director Leslie Hayhurst holds a bobcat that had to be euthanized when animals were ordered off the property.
Genesis director Leslie Hayhurst holds a bobcat that had to be euthanized when animals were ordered off the property by March 2011.

In 2009, the Beech Mountain Town Council adopted the Buckeye Lake Protection Ordinance, which states “no animals can be caged or housed within 200 feet of Buckeye Lake or within 200 feet of any stream that drains into Buckeye Lake.”

For the town to utilize the lake as a recreation lake, the ordinance had to be adopted, according to an email, filed in court records, by Tom Boyd, a senior environmental specialist for N.C DENR.

This ordinance caused the wildlife sanctuary to be in violation of its 30-year lease, which was signed for $1 in 1999 for Genesis to operate on .84 acres of town property near the Buckeye Lake.

However, Genesis wasn’t notified right away, and eventually the Beech Mountain Town Council gave the sanctuary until March 2011 to comply with the ordinance. So the animals were dispersed to private property.

Then a year later, Hayhurst received a letter from Town Attorney Four Eggers that Genesis breached its lease again for a variety of reasons: the space wasn’t being used as an education center; Genesis didn’t provide proof of insurance; structures were in violation of setback variances and would have to be demolished; and a great deal of debris existed on the property.

Hayhurst responded in a letter dated April 2, 2012. She said the letter from Eggers was “factually incorrect, heartless and non-caring” and contained numerous “erroneous allegations.”

In any event, the Town of Beech Mountain filed a complaint and won in Watauga County Small Claims Court seeking an immediate eviction. Genesis quickly appealed with its own set of claims, and then the Town of Beech Mountain responded to the counterclaim with an 86-bullet response basically denying all of the allegations by Genesis.

In May 2013, a  judge ruled that the lease was valid, something that attorneys for Genesis called a “big” win for the wildlife organization. The trial that just concluded began in September 2014.

On Wednesday, attorneys Patrick Flanagan and Meagan Kiser of the firm Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, which represented the town, were not available for comment, a secretary at the firm said.

Town Attorney Four Eggers responded to questions via email, saying: “I would anticipate post judgment motions being made to the Court, as well as the possibility of an appeal by the Town.”

Hayhurst said about $150,000 of “cold hard cash” as been spent with this lawsuit and having to breakdown the cages and move them off of the property, and she says an estimated $125,000 would have to be spent to bring the wildlife sanctuary to where it was before this all happened.

“It’s a shame because we didn’t have to go through this. There were certainly better ways to address the problem,” Hayhurst said.

For more background on this story, click here.