I-69 takes aim at LSU AgCenter Pecan Station once again

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Boethel, David J., Sanderlin, Randy S.  |  1/4/2011 1:08:22 AM

News Release Distributed 08/06/10

The LSU AgCenter Pecan Research and Extension Station in Shreveport is again threatened by the proposed alignment of Interstate 69 in southern Caddo Parish.

The state Department of Transportation and Development held public meetings Aug. 3 and 4 to allow input on revisions to the proposed interstate, and David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor, said he was disappointed the station was in jeopardy.

“We thought that had been settled,” Boethel said, referring to assurances in May 2009 from Richard Savoie, then-DOTD deputy chief engineer, that I-69 would have an alignment “that will avoid any required right-of-way from the facility.”

Boethel said the LSU AgCenter is working with state officials to determine why the Pecan Station is back in the interstate’s proposed path. “We are certainly again opposed to the move because it will have a disastrous effect on our research,” Boethel said.

“We were surprised to find that there are now three routes being considered for final decision and that two of those essentially would destroy the station,” said Randy Sanderlin, research coordinator at the station.

The decisions makers need to be made aware that the station represents more “than just a few pecan trees,” Sanderlin said. The loss of the station would have long-term negative effects on the pecan industry in Louisiana and the entire southeastern pecan-producing states, he said.

“As a grower, I really depend on the Pecan Station for timely research they do, and it’s a direct help to me,” said Stephen Norman of Rosalie Pecans in Alexandria. “It’s so immovable. Growing trees requires decades. The permanence of the station is essential.”

Norman said the Pecan Station is a great resource for evaluating new pesticides, growing techniques and economical and safe ways to handle pecans. “I am constantly changing the way I do things because of the guys at the Pecan Station,” he said.

Sherman Richardson, of Colfax, who has had an orchard in Chopin for 10 years, said the research is invaluable.

It is hard for growers to get unbiased information and data on chemicals – “what works and what doesn’t without risking our crop,” he said.

Richardson said Pecan Station scientists were especially important after Hurricane Rita in helping him bring his trees back. “I don’t want to fly in the dark again,” he said.

Bill Beasley, of Ferriday, said he has gained “a world of knowledge in cultivation, thinning and fertilization” from the Pecan Station since his operation began 25 years ago. “You cannot produce pecan trees overnight like a row crop,” Beasley said.

Sanderlin said the station also provides an educational resource for young people and sometimes serves as a “gateway into agricultural and scientific careers.”

“If not for my time at the Pecan Station, I probably would not have ended up where I am today,” said Rebecca Melanson. “I had such a wonderful experience working on pecan research with the researchers and pecan producers that I decided to pursue a graduate degree in plant pathology at Louisiana State University.

“After graduate school, I would like to pursue a career in agricultural research and extension in Louisiana at a facility like the Pecan Station,” she said.

Sanderlin is encouraging growers to participate in a public comment period, open until Aug. 13, for interested parties to submit their thoughts on which interstate route they prefer.

Comment forms can be found at www.I69dotd.com. Or letters can be addressed to: I-69 SIU 15, c/o Michael Baker Jr. Inc, 2600 CitiPlace Drive, Suite 450, Baton Rouge, LA 70808.

DOTD officials said concerns of the Pecan Station officials and comments from other citizens would be digested before the project moves to the final stages when a timeline will be placed on the project, which is nearing completion of environmental impact studies.

The station has served the commercial pecan industry for 80 years, and projects at the station are not duplicated elsewhere, Boethel said.

The total value of pecan production in Louisiana in 2009 was $10.5 million, Sanderlin said.

Mary Ann Van Osdell

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