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Sandpoint UI center to close

by RALPH BARTHOLDT
Staff Writer | April 21, 2010 9:00 PM

SANDPOINT - The University of Idaho's Research and Extension office here will be mothballed, according to staffers.

Dr. Dan Barney, known for his huckleberry research at the facility on Boyer Avenue, said he was told that the station where he has spent 22 years, will be shuttered as of June 30 in the face of university budget shortfalls.

"I was notified last Friday," he said. "Our job here is to completely decommission the station and get it into some type of long-term storage situation."

The University of Idaho did not confirm the report.

Bill Loftus of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Educational Communications said he had not heard of plans to close the Sandpoint station.

The university and the community opted in December to seek additional funding to keep the Sandpoint Research and Extension Center open, Loftus said.

"We've had lots of conversations," he said. "Beyond that, I really can't tell you."

The university announced earlier that it would make a decision May 15 on its plans for the facility. The Sandpoint station was among 12 facilities statewide targeted for closure as the U of I looked to cut $3.2 million from its research and extension budget.

Agriculture research facilities in Parma and Tetonia, also slated for closure, received pacts from agricultural groups and industry, such as the Simplot Company for funding that could ensure their long-term viability.

"Folks stepped forward in Parma and Tetonia," Loftus said. "Sandpoint didn't get that kind of support."

The university had intimated that without financial support, the Sandpoint facility could close June 30.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, had not heard of a decision by the university to close the center.

Keough said a committee that formed last fall comprised of representatives from the public and private sector have worked to find funding solutions to keep the center open.

"We've identified some potential partnerships," she said.

Keeping the facility open, however, will require a commitment from both investors and U of I, she said.

"It requires the university's willingness to expand some of its research, as well as university and local donors to commit to long-term funding," she said.

The university has faced a line of budget cuts the past two years that amount to approximately 25 percent, Keough said.

"They are in a huge crisis right now, financially," she said.

If the university opted to curtail operations at the Sandpoint facility, she said the scientific research would continue and the land would not be sold.

"There is a commitment on the part of the president and dean not to sell," she said.

For decades the Sandpoint station has been in the forefront of blueberry carcinogen research, as well as research in the commercial production of huckleberries, bilberries, and fir tree research.

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