Saturday, September 24, 2011

Funding for Agriculture Research Center in Oconee County More Precarious After Senate Committee Vote

Future Bleak

Funding for the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center on Government Station Road outside Watkinsville officially comes to an end on Sept. 30, and long-term prospects for the facility are bleak at best.

Congress has not agreed on an agricultural appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, which starts on Oct. 1.

Passage of a continuing resolution that would extend the funding for all federal agencies, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is now hung up in the political stalemate between the House and Senate in Washington.

Campbell Center on Government Station Road

Without such a resolution, the Campbell Center, part of ARS, would shut down with other non-essential federal agencies on Sept. 30.

The House of Representatives passed an agricultural appropriations back in June that specifically defunds the Campbell Center.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its own Senate agricultural appropriations bill and sent it on to the Senate on Sept 7. That bill, still awaiting action by the full Senate, also specifically strikes funds for the Campbell Center.

President Barack Obama called for closing of Campbell and nine other named sites in his budget request submitted to Congress in February for Fiscal Year 2012.

So even if the present funding level for ARS is extended via a continuing resolution, it is uncertain how much longer ARS will continue operating the Watkinsville facility.

I called Deborah Brennan, area director for the ARS based at the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center on College Station Road in Athens, earlier this month to get an update on the future of the Campbell Center and was told by someone who answered her phone I could not speak to Brennan.

When I called Sandy Miller Hayes, director of the information staff for ARS outside Washington, she told me that she had been instructed to forward all budget questions directly to the United States Department of Agriculture communication office.

That office also did not offer any information about the future of the Campbell Center.

When the House passed its agriculture bill on June 16, it included a provision that the 1,100 acres that make up the Campbell Center would be made available to the University of Georgia for continued agricultural research when the center was closed.

The University has expressed an interest in taking over the land.

The Senate version of the bill does not include the House provision, making future use of the land uncertain.

Differences between the House version of the bill and any passed by the Senate would have to be resolved by conference committee.

Ben Mosely, a staff member in Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office, told me last week that the senator “supports continuing agriculture research” on the Campbell Center site. Chambliss has been a strong supporter of the Center in the past.

The 1,100 acres of the Campbell Cenyer is divided into four parcels. Two parcels are on Hog Mountain Road at the Daniells Bridge Road intersection. A third parcel is on Hog Mountain Road across from the Civic Center. The fourth is on Colham Ferry Road south of Coventry Road in the southern part of the county.

Dwight Fisher, research leader at the Campbell Center since February of 2009, took early retirement in July.

The person I spoke with in Brennan’s office would not tell me who is serving as acting research leader, and no one answered the phone when I called the Campbell Center directly to try to speak to the interim leader.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If we have to borrow money from China to pay for this, it should be defunded.