Local News

Residents Saddle Up to Protest Bio-Defense Lab

Posted January 26, 2008 8:16 p.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2008 1:09 p.m. EST

— Opposition against a proposed high-level research lab in Granville County is growing.

Butner is among five sites under consideration for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense facility, which would study animal diseases or diseases spread from animals to humans, such as bird flu or foot-and-mouth disease.

Part of the Umstead Research Farm would be used for $450 million lab.

“In times past, when a community was threatened, people would organize a posse and ride out to meet the threat. We symbolically want to examplify the threat to our community,” Suzanne Moody Smith said.

About a dozen protesters did just that, as they rode horseback Saturday to raise awareness about the lab. The opponents said they are worried about the potential risk associated with deadly organisms at the facility.

“We only live four or five miles from where they're talking about putting the bio lab and you know, we don't want it there," Amy Wilkins said.

Supporters said the risks are being exaggerated and that the lab would be safe.

“It's very much akin to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] which does work on foreign diseases which may or may not ever be introduced into the country , and it's done that work safely in the middle of Atlanta for 25 years,” Dr. Warick Arden with N.C. State University said.

Supporters also point out that the lab would bring about 1,500 short-term construction jobs to Butner, eventually employ up to 500 people and could generate $6 billion over the next two decades.

Still, some folks in Butner said they are not interested in the economical impact, they are concerned about their safety.

“I'm absolutely positive we're gonna stop it. It's gonna be a lot of work, but we're willing to do it," Deborah Ferruccio said.

Other sites selected as finalists for the 520,000-square-foot facility are:

  • Flora Industrial Park, Madison County, Miss.
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.
  • Texas Research Park, San Antonio, Texas
  • University of Georgia/South Milledge Avenue, Athens, Ga.

The debate over this lab has also received attention from city leaders in Durham and Raleigh. Raleigh elected officials recently sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for more information about the facility.

A final selection is expected in the fall. If Butner is chosen, a lab could be up and running by 2013.