Monday, October 28, 2013

Deed Transfers Oconee County Campbell Center Land To University of Georgia

25 Year Protection

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia recorded deed documents in the Superior Court of Oconee County late last month officially transferring 1,055 acres that had been part of the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center from the United States Department of Agriculture to the University of Georgia.

As a condition of acceptance, the state agreed to “use the property for agricultural and natural resources research for a minimum of 25 years,” guaranteeing that the acreage will not be developed before 2038.

Converted Campbell Center Office

The state of Georgia paid $1 for the 1,055 acres, spread around the county but predominantly in the quickly developing northern section.

The recording on Sept. 20 of the quitclaim deed from the federal government giving up ownership of the land brings to an end the operation of the Campbell Center, which was created on Jan. 1, 1937, to conduct research and develop procedures to deal with soil erosion in this part of the state.

The USDA is retaining 91 acres 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.

Story Comes To Close

The recording of the deeds also brings to a close a story that began to unfold locally in February of 2011.

President Obama had cut funding in the 2012 budget for the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,and the Agricultural Research Service designated the Campbell Center for closing to accommodate the budget cut.

Normally excess land is disposed of through a series of procedures that can include sale on the open market.

Georgia First District Rep. Jack Kingston and his agricultural appropriations subcommittee put a provision in the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that allowed the Secretary of Agriculture to “convey” the excess land to a Land Grant College or University.

Kingston, from Savannah, grew up in Athens and attended the University of Georgia, which is a Land Grant University. Kingston currently is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxbe Chambliss.

The law Kingston and his committee drafted stipulated that the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer the land ended on Sept. 30, 2013, when the 2012-2013 federal budget ended.

University Granted Access

The University of Georgia, which has collaborated with researchers at the Campbell Center over the years and jointly managed the cattle on the land, was given the right of access to the land of the Campbell Center by early 2012.

The University of Georgia is phasing out operation over the next three years of its 522-acre Plant Sciences Farm on Hog Mountain Road opposite North Oconee High School and is transferring some of that research to the newly acquired land that was the Campbell Center.

Plant Science Farm--Snows Mill Road

James H. Dorsey Jr., director of real estate and space management for the University of Georgia, told me negotiations for final transfer of the land had been completed well before the Sept. 30 deadline.

The Board of Regents approved the receipt of the land at its meeting on Aug. 13, Dorsey said.

Center Was Four Tracts

The 1,146 acres of the Campbell Center were divided into four tracts.

Two of them, called the North Unit and the East Unit, concentrate around the intersection of Hog Mountain Road and Daniells Bridge/Government Station Road.

The West Unit is on Hog Mountain Road opposite the Civic Center and Oconee County High School.

The South Unit is on Colham Ferry Road south of Coventry Road.

Only a part of the East Unit will remain in USDA hands.

Maps of these units are in a story I posted on this site on April 3, 2011.

Deed Stipulation

The University of Georgia, in accepting the property, agreed to “continue USDA’s strategic goals” of assisting rural communities, conserving and restoring national forests and private lands, enhancing water resources, promoting agricultural production, and ensuring that “all of America’s children have access to safe, nutritious and balanced meals.”

Pastoral Scene Hog Mountain Road

The title to the land may revert to the federal government if the University fails or ceases to use the land “for agricultural or natural resources research” during the next 25 years.

The University also accepted a series of easements on the property, including for part of Burr Harris Road.

The headquarters of the Campbell Center, at the corner of Experiment Station Road and Government Station Road, already has been reconfigured for use by the Oconee County Extension Services Office.

The Southern Piedmont Conservation Research Center was named for J. Phil Campbell Sr. in 1997. Campbell was instrumental in creating the Center and in choosing its site just outside of Athens and the University of Georgia.

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