All of the current employees of the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center outside Watkinsville received their reassignment letters last week and will be at their new jobs by June 18, a spokesperson for the Agricultural Research Service confirmed today.
ARS, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has not yet set the final closing date for the 1,107-acre facility, Sandy Miller Hays, director of ARS Information, told me in an email message today.
Disposal of the property is a “prolonged process,” she said.
The University of Georgia has asked for the property for its College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, but Dean J. Scott Angle told me in a telephone conversation Monday that he has been told by the Department of Agriculture that it is still “in the process of investigating” what to do with the property.
Angle said he expects the property to be transferred to the University, but he doesn’t think he will get final word until at least March.
Angle told me, and Miller Hays confirmed, that ARS will retain 90 acres from the Campell Center land for the Richard Russell Research Center at Athens.
The land, to the west of Government Station Road and south of Hog Mountain Road, is used by the Russell Center for poultry research.
The Center has its headquarters at the intersection of Government Station Road and Experiment Station Road near U.S. 441 bypass, but the 1,107 acres are spread around the county.
Just fewer than 610 of those acres are on both sides of Hog Mountain Road east of Butler’s Crossing and north of Watkinsville.
Another 245 of those acres are across Hog Mountain Road from the Civic Center. The final 252 of the acres are in the southern part of the county on Colham Ferry Road.
Earlier this year, the Center had nearly 30 employees. Several have left since that time, and only about 20 received their reassignment letters on Jan. 20.
Many will be reassigned locally, but several have been offered new positions in other states, including Kentucky, Florida and North Carolina, I was able to learn.
The Campbell Center was started on Jan. 1, 1937, to conduct research and develop procedures to deal with soil erosion, but the scientists and research staff have been prohibited from doing research in recent months because of the Center’s closing.
Both Houses of Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed in November an agriculture appropriations bill for the current fiscal year that did not include funding for the Campbell Center.
The bill stipulated that “the Secretary of Agriculture may convey, with or without consideration, all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to any real property, including improvements and equipment thereon, of the facility to an eligible entity.”
Those eligible entities include land-grant colleges and universities, tribal institutions with land-grant status and Hispanic-serving agricultural colleges and universities.
The University of Georgia is a land-grant institution.
If the University of Georgia were to receive the land, it would have to agree to use the property for agricultural and natural resources research for 25 years.
The cattle on the Campbell Center land already are owned by the University of Georgia.
Dean Angle said the University has been granted access to the land and is helping to manage the herd.