Feds cut off funding to Pineywoods RC&D

Ken Awtrey
Ken Awtrey
Duke Lyons
Duke Lyons

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - At 5 p.m. Friday, some federally funded programs were zeroed out. They exist no more.

Employees work for various programs, but are sharing the same experience: The job as they knew it today has gone away.

Federal funds, a coordinator, and an office are no more as the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service cut the collaboration from its budget.

It's a gloomy day for Ken Awtrey. For 20 years, he's made living conditions better and safer for a 10-county East Texas region.

"Major contributions to water, sewer and fire and other environmental things for our communities that we service in the Pineywoods RC&D," said Duke Lyons, the board chairman of Pineywoods RC&D.

Funding from USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service provided the Pineywoods council a coordinator and office expenses. Now the partnership here and at councils across the nation has ended.

"Our budget has not been increased since 2003, which affects 375 councils throughout America," Lyons said.

Awtrey must severe all ties with Pineywoods. Fortunately, he and other coordinators can continue working for the USDA's NRCS.

"As of Monday, they'll be doing duties other than assisting NRCS councils," said Claude Ross, the NRCS state program manager. "The employees will be doing other duties within the NRCS to meet our agency goals."

The transition is awkward. No close-out time is allowed. Awtrey and the office manager, who will continue working for the Pineywoods council, were scrambling to pack up. This is unreasonable, according to Lyons.

"The office we're in we're told we cannot come into anymore," Lyons said. "We cannot have our meeting there. We are going to have the phones cut off like Monday. This is not applying, in my opinion, common sense to close out."

Even so, the council will try its best to keep the work going.

"Can we do the things we have done and we're talking about millions of dollars in projects for our area and our rural area?" Lyons said. "It's going to be difficult."

The council's future will be different. So will Awtrey's. Decisions are ahead for an agency and an individual.

Here are some of the things the Pineywoods RC&D accomplished last year:

* Improved sewer services were brought to Wildwood and Redland estates in Angelina County.

* Two similar sewer projects in Shelby County.

* Numerous environmental and energy projects in all 10 counties.

* The Attoyac watershed was protected.

* Rural fire protection made it safer for homes, businesses and properties.

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