Soil lab at UMaine to stay open, Collins says

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted June 16, 2011, at 3:04 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — A soil and water research laboratory at the University of Maine will remain open after U.S. Sen. Susan Collins secured a commitment from the White House this week to restore its funding.

Collins said Thursday that the decision helps preserve 18 jobs held by scientists, researchers and support staff at the Department of Agriculture’s New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory at UMaine. The research done there is vital to the potato and blueberry industries as well as efforts to improve food safety, Collins said.

The only reason the lab was slated for closure is because it was erroneously labeled as a congressional earmark during contentious federal budget negotiations in March, the senator said.

Unfortunately, the threat of cuts forced many scientists and researchers to begin looking for other jobs.

“The past several months have been difficult for the lab employees and their families who were told that they would be transferred to other research facilities around the country, including as far away as North Dakota and Mississippi,” Collins said in a statement. “I was particularly troubled that the Department planned to close the lab when it has the flexibility under the law to keep the laboratory open.

“Shuttering this important lab and sending these employees, who are dedicated to improving the yields and disease-resistance of some of Maine’s most important crops, simply didn’t make sense. I truly appreciate the White House’s willingness to consider my argument and its commitment to keep the lab open.”

The New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory at UMaine is the only lab of its kind in New England and has been in continuous operation for nearly 40 years.

Ivan Fernandez, a professor of soil science at UMaine who has worked closely with the lab over his 28 years, said closing the facility would have been extremely counterproductive.

“This lab has been put in jeopardy a number of times, but it’s really become one of the strongest cohort of scientists and researchers that it’s ever been and an ideal partner to be co-located here at UMaine.”

Fernandez also credited Collins for recognizing the importance of the kind of research done at the New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/16/politics/soil-lab-at-umaine-to-stay-open-collins-says/ printed on September 22, 2014