The J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center, headquartered on Experiment Station Road outside Watkinsville, almost certainly will close at the end of this year, but the land is likely to remain in use for agricultural research for at least 25 years beyond that closing.
This is because of the approval yesterday by the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriation Committee of the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.
That bill provides $125.5 billion to fund various programs within the Department of Agriculture and related agencies, a reduction of more than $7 billion from President Barack Obama’s request.
|Campbell Center Headquarters|
The bill also stipulates that the Secretary of Agriculture may close up to 10 facilities of the Agricultural Research Service, as proposed in the president’s budget for fiscal year 2012.
The Campbell Center was one of the facilities President Obama proposed for closing.
The bill also specifies that the Secretary of Agriculture may convey the properties to be closed to a land-grant college or university located in the same state as the property if the land-grant college or university agrees to accept and use the property for agricultural and natural resources research for a minimum of 25 years.
The University of Georgia, a land-grant institution, has expressed an interest in the property that makes up the Campbell Center.
The bill has to be approved by the full House, agreed to by the Senate and signed by President Obama.
In the current fiscal climate, it seems unlikely either house is going to add back funding for a program President Obama has proposed to eliminate.
“It doesn’t look like there is any way out,” Campbell Center Research Leader Dwight Fisher told me in a telephone conversation yesterday. “No practical way. They have become too specific.”
Fisher said the employees of the Center have been offered early retirement and other buyout options. The Center employs 25 research scientists and support staff.
Fisher said he has decided to take early retirement.
The Center’s funding is scheduled to end on Sept. 30 of this year, with the end of the federal 2011 fiscal year.
The 1,100-acre Campbell Center is divided into four parcels. Two parcels are on Hog Mountain Road at the Daniells Bridge Road intersection. A third is on Hog Mountain Road across from the Civic Center. The fourth is on on Colham Ferry Road south of Coventry Road in the southern part of the county.
The parcels on Hog Mountain Road all would be prime for commercial and residential development when the economy improves without the bill’s stipulations.
The two pieces of land on Hog Mountain Road near Daniells Bridge Road abut the University of Georgia’s 90-acre Horticulture farm.
Dean J. Scott Angle of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a resident of Oconee County, told me in a telephone conversation in early April that the University is interested in the Campell Center land if the Center closes and the land becomes available.
“We would like to continue to use the land in the way it has been used,” he said.
Fisher told me yesterday that representatives of the university have toured the facility recently.
The cattle on the farm are owned by the university and managed cooperatively with the Campbell Center.
The College of Agricultural and Environment Sciences has announced that the Plant Sciences Farm on 522 acres on Hog Mountain Road and Snows Mill Road across from North Oconee High School is being put up for sale.
Some of the research there could be moved to the Campbell Center land.
I had heard that the farm was on the market and reported on that possibility in early April.
That property is assessed at $6.9 million.
The Farm will be sold with the condition the seller sign a three-year lease back to the University of Georgia so researchers can finish their projects.
Georgia First District Representative Jack Kingston and his agricultural appropriations subcommittee drafted the bill that was approved by the Appropriations Committee yesterday.
Kingston, from Savannah, grew up in Athens and attended the University of Georgia.
The rules on disposal of the property from the closed center in Kingston subcommittee bill are different and much simpler than those usually used to dispose of unused federal properties, such as the former Navy School in Athens.
The only other land-grant institution in Georgia is Fort Valley State University, a historically black university located in Fort Valley, and it could accept the Campell Center land as well.
In addition to land grant colleges and universities, the bill specifies that the excess property could be transferred to Hispanic Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities or to Native American institutions as defined by the Equity in Education Land Grant Status Act. Georgia has no such institutions.
“I cannot imagine any university not grabbing this,” Fisher said of the land that makes up the Campbell Center. He said the University of Georgia would generate revenue from selling the Plant Science Farm and get the Campbell Center land for free.
“They are geniuses,” he said.