Ecology lab returns to financial stability

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Savannah River Ecology Lab, once targeted for closure after its funding was eliminated, has gradually returned to financial stability and will add a permanent director later this year.
"We're just getting started on this so we still have details to work out," said Carl Bergmann, who-along with Ken McLeod-have served as interim co-directors in recent years.
The University of Georgia research facility at Savannah River Site was almost closed in 2006, after the U.S. Energy Department eliminated most of its funding. Its 110-person staff dwindled to a low of about 45 before gradually increasing in recent years.
"It's come along to the point that we are in a much better position," Bergmann said, adding that the current staff of 57 could increase to about 65 during the next year.
Bergmann and McLeod will step down between July 1 and Dec. 1 as an internal search proceeds to find a permanent director. John Seaman, the lab's assistant director, will lead a committee of faculty and staff that will identify new leadership candidates.
Since its traditional funding was eliminated in 2005 and 2006, the lab has worked to become more independent by seeking out grants for specific research projects, and also cultivating new relationships with the Energy Department through specific projects for which case-by-case funding is available.
"At this point, the majority of our funding is still from the site, and it is project  directed funding," Bergmann said.
Sources include Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Energy Department's environmental management section.
The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act also provided funding-almost $2.6 million-for a series of projects, although such allocations will end in 2011.
Faculty members are also continuing to seek grants from outside the area.
"Those are harder to come by, and we get maybe 10 percent from external sources," he said. "But we are continuing to try to bring in more of that whenever there is an opportunity."
Many of the projects related to the Energy Department involve soil and groundwater studies. Outside grants have funded a broad range of ecology topics, including an effort to determine of the invasive Burmese pythons that have established themselves in Florida could also survive in South Carolina or other states.
Other ongoing research involves studies of wood ducks for Auburn University, a stork study for the Audubon Society and U.S. Interior Department, research for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service involving bog turtles and an Army study involving other turtle species that might be at risk.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com

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