Political News

North Carolina apparently loses in bid for $450M biodefense lab

Posted December 3, 2008

— The federal government has recommended a site in Kansas for a new $450 million laboratory to study biological threats like anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease, congressional lawmakers and staff said Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security's choice of Manhattan, Kan., beat out intense competition from other sites in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

North Carolina had offered a package of incentives built around a site near Butner, N.C. However, a number of local groups and citizens lobbied against the project. Several county and local governments also voiced opposition, citing environmental and health concerns.

As more and more local politicians joined opponents of the proposed lab,  the federal government didn't react favorably.

"Your message has been received and the message has been that you don't support us coming here," DHS spokesman John Verrico told WRAL News in August as opposition mounted.

Also in September, one of the best chances to secure the lab fell apart when the North Carolina Biotechnology Center rejected a grant from Golden LEAF, the foundation that distributes economic development grants from the state's tobacco litigation settlement.

The $262,000 involved would have paid for efforts by the Biotech Center and its bio-lab allies to prepare an education campaign about the lab. The Biotech Center said Golden LEAF’s terms for the grant were unreasonable, and Golden LEAF countered by saying it needed to ensure any promotional campaign was factual.

Agency official revealed their decision to several lawmakers late Tuesday, according to lawmakers and staff familiar with the briefings. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement won't be made until later this week, when the agency releases an environmental impact statement.

The choice won't become final until sometime after a 30-day period for comments on the decision, which could face legal challenges from losing states.

The new lab would replace an aging, 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, about four miles off the eastern end of Long Island, N.Y. Foot-and-mouth research has been confined to the island since 1955 to avoid an accidental outbreak that could lead to the slaughter of millions of livestock if they became infected. The disease does not sicken humans.

Some farm groups have expressed concern about the risks of moving the lab to the U.S. mainland. The Bush administration acknowledged earlier this year that accidents have happened with the feared virus at the Plum Island facility.

However, DHS officials say they are convinced the agency can operate safely using the latest containment procedures. Kansas officials are focused on the $3.5 billion economic infusion the lab could mean for the local economy.

The lab is expected to generate about 1,500 construction jobs and a permanent payroll of $25 million to $30 million for more than 300 employees once the project is completed by 2015.

The state mounted one of the most aggressive efforts to win the new lab, forming a special task force to lobby DHS officials after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., promoted its economic potential.

The Kansas Legislature approved $105 million in bonds to buy land, upgrade roads, install a security fence and build a utility plant at the site on the Kansas State University campus. The university already conducts similar research at its Biosecurity Research Institute, near the proposed site of the new lab.

Besides foot-and-mouth disease, researchers also would study African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses.

Other finalist sites were Flora, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; and San Antonio, Texas.

23 Comments

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  • jjpfister Dec 4, 2008

    This was a close shave. Beneath the glossy surface and claims - for a failsafe lab that hadn't even been designed, for example -lay tremendous threats and dangers to water, people, animals, and our pocketbooks.
    For safety from terrorists, check out Department of Defense directive 3000.05 (2005). This decision to establish this new policy, which makes missions of support and aid equal and equivalent to defense missions, arose as a result of Indonesia's stunning positive shift in US approval after a US Navy hospital boat was assigned to help Tsunami victims.
    NBAF would have cost NC thousands - money that could beef up schools and send hundreds of our children college.
    Thanks you for reading this.
    Cranky Old Lady

  • sandoided Dec 4, 2008

    Hallaluya, See what we can do together. People seem to thing we would have gotten lots of jobs out of this but that is untrue, only 60 jobs would have come from our community,we would have been stuck with a bill for over $200,000,000 out of tax payor coffers.That doesn't even come close to what it would have cost us had there been a leak and we would have killed all the animals for miles and the human life it could have taken.
    I say THANK YOU TO GNAT!!

  • kathryn6668 Dec 3, 2008

    North Carolina taxpayers have dodged an economic bullet. We already face a $320 million shortfall in our State budget this year. If NBAF came here, NC taxpayers would have had to pay for another $200 million UP FRONT to build the infrastructure. And the federal contracting process doesn't require that the construction work would go to a NC firm -- indeed, the recent CDC lab expansion was awarded to a firm in a state other than Georgia. At the end of the day, $200 million is a lot of jack for 63 jobs -- and for the privilege of having deadly diseases with no treatments a short hop away from 5 of our area reservoirs.

  • lawsonbj Dec 3, 2008

    Why don't we embrace rent-seeking behavior to spend North Carolina tax dollars (that we don't have) for infrastructure improvements to attract the world's largest facility for the world's most secretive organization to study the world's most dangerous diseases? What's not to love?

    Wait a minute, perhaps it's better if a biosafety level four facility is run by an organization that will be transparent and accountable to the community.

    Oh, and I wonder what would happen if we weren't funneling 35% of our wealth to Washington every year for the privilege of bailing out Wall Street, insurance companies, and perhaps automotive manufacturers, while paying interest on an almost $11 trillion national debt?

    Perhaps if we kept more resources locally, might we be able to create our own businesses, and our own jobs?

    Well done, GNAT.

  • jjpfister Dec 3, 2008

    So we lose 63 jobs 7 years from now. At least we are not endangering Raleigh's water supply. And we won't be spending millions of NC tax payers dollars to bring those few jobs. And we won't have to be worried if foot and mout disease that has been outlawed from the mainland for over 50 years will escape and obliterate our state's livestock. I say hooray to all those who participated in the grassroots work to stop the NBAF debacle from coming to Butner.

  • mypetsrule Dec 3, 2008

    GNAT should be thanked and apparently other people think so also Indy Weekly's 2008 Citizens Award went to them. GNAT: Creating real homeland security (http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A271550)
    To fully grasp the accomplishments of GNAT, you must first understand the group's formidable opponents: the opaque and powerful Homeland Security department; high-ranking local, state and federal elected officials who aggressively courted the project; and the N.C. Consortium, a deep-pocketed phalanx of biotech, academic, economic development and agriculture interests. Yes we Did!!!!

  • superman Dec 3, 2008

    Money and jobs given away! How do you spell stupiddd? You ever wondered how dangerous a gas station is. Couple terrorist put bombs at 8 to 10 different gas stations and Wake County would be off the map. I cant sleep at night for fear a tree might fall on the house or that a wild animal might attack my dog outside. Do they recall that Sherron Harris nucleor plant is fairly close by?

  • f6rider Dec 3, 2008

    Well done!

  • pappybigtuna1 Dec 3, 2008

    stupid is as stupid does.
    The Economics 101 - 63 people working, buying food, 60 more people working selling gas, 123 people buying gas and 60 more people working, buying food and gas and paying taxes, buying TV's, 60 more people working and so on and so on - yea it was only 63 jobs dah!

  • freddie cadetti 72 Dec 3, 2008

    Next time you whaco's up there need a job, head to Kansas where you sent those.

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