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Watchdog group calls W.Va. fruit lab Byrd pork

September 27, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A federal research center in Kearneysville, W.Va., has made a list of wasteful government spending projects generated by a self-described watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

The Appalachian Fruit Research Station is among the 181 projects that should be eliminated from the $70 billion federal agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal 2000, according to the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

"These parochial pork barrel projects are not only bad farm policy, they are also bad for the taxpayers of America," the group stated.

A government spokeswoman defended the Kearneysville facility as an important center for agricultural research.

"We like to let our accomplishments at the lab speak for themselves. We think they are very worthwhile," said Sandy Miller Hays, director of information for the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

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A citrus harvesting machine and methods to prevent crop disease and reduce pesticide use are among the projects that have been developed at Kearneysville, Hays said.

The Kearneysville research station opened in 1979 after U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., secured a $7.5 million budget allotment for its construction.

The 500-acre facility now has an 18-member research staff with 40 full-time support workers for the study of issues such as harvesting and maximizing fruit productivity.

Byrd was able to get $250,000 for the center in last year's agriculture appropriations bill and has asked for another $250,000 in this year's bill, according to the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

In a Sept. 24 letter to U.S. Senate appropriations chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the watchdog group calls the funds earmarked for the Kearneysville station and other projects part of a "time-honored ritual of bringing home the bacon."

The group calls the latest funding request a "$250,000 gift for the community of Kearneysville" from Byrd.

In a faxed statement, Byrd said he worked to create a fruit research lab that would ensure economic opportunities for farmers in West Virginia and Appalachia and help them manage natural resources.

"The lab has been very involved in this effort, and in many others, that pay dividends for fruit farmers throughout Appalachia," Byrd said.

Byrd visited the research station in August to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the center and to have a new hybrid plum developed there dedicated in his honor.

Other fund requests criticized by the group included $7.6 million for agricultural research in Mississippi, $1.2 million to study wine in California and New York and $650,000 for a salmon project in Alaska.

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