Local News

Bio-lab faces growing opposition; Homeland Security says message 'received'

Posted August 6, 2008 4:35 p.m. EDT
Updated August 7, 2008 8:28 a.m. EDT

— Growing opposition to a proposed bio-defense lab in Granville County may end its chances of ending up there.

Butner is one of five finalist locations that the Department of Homeland Security is considering for a $450 million National Bio- and Agro-Defense facility, which would study animal diseases and diseases spread from animals to humans.

Homeland Security officials held two public hearings in Butner last week to gauge how the community would support a proposed lab. Protesters gathered outside of the meetings.

Kathryn Spann is one of many who spoke at the Homeland Security meetings against the lab.

Despite the fact the opposition overwhelmingly outnumbered those in favor of the lab, Spann said there's more work to be done.

"It's going to be Homeland Security who has to decide whether they want to try to make a facility working an environment that is plainly hostile to it," Spann said.

A spokesperson for Homeland Security said representatives will remember what they saw in Butner.

"Your message has been received and the message has been that you don't support us coming here," Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology spokesman John Verrico said.

Supporters say the lab would bring about 1,500 short-term construction jobs and would eventually employ up to 500 people and could generate $6 billion in the local economy over the next two decades.

Some supporters, including local elected officials, have changed their minds about the facility.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, who represents the 13th congressional district which includes Granville County, said he cannot support bringing a federal facility to a community in his district that does not welcome it.

"I continue to believe that we must do the research that would be conducted at the proposed facility to protect public health and our food supply, whether at the current location at Plum Island or elsewhere, and that wherever the research is done it must be done safely," Miller said in a statement Wednesday.

The Raleigh City Council has voted to adopt a resolution formally opposing the lab. Creedmoor officials have also spoken out against the project. Durham city leaders have not taken a stance on the lab yet. A public forum is scheduled Wednesday night to hear from the public.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Rep. David Price, (D-NC), chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said he understands the “Raleigh City Council’s continued concerns about the potential impact of the proposed NBAF facility on the city’s water supply.”

Price said he has taken steps to ensure the facility will not be constructed at any of the five proposed sites until the department conducts a risk analysis.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s office also released a statement Wednesday saying the senator has pressed the Department of Homeland Security to address the questions and concerns of North Carolinians about the NBAF. Dole thinks it would be very difficult for DHS to locate the facility in an area where local officials and residents are not supportive.

North Carolina Biotechnology Center officials this week said the center would not be accepting a $262,248 grant that would have funded efforts to support the bio-lab.

Warwick Arden, dean of the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine, is a member of a consortium that supports putting the lab Butner.

Arden said the group will be releasing a statement by the end of the week regarding its position on the future of the lab.

Arden said he has concerns that Homeland Security has not adequately answered the public’s concerns over the project.

This week, Homeland Security officials attended public hearings in Mississippi and Kansas to survey public interest in those sites, Verrico said.

A decision on the final site will likely not be made until December, Verrico said.