Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tug-of-War Begins over Bioresearch Lab for Athens; Supporters Try to Calm Concerns about Harm to the Environment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tug-of-War Begins over Bioresearch Lab for Athens; Supporters Try to Calm Concerns about Harm to the Environment

Article excerpt

Byline: BLAKE AUED

ATHENS, Ga. - For years, Athens has tried to become a major player in the growing field of bioresearch, an industry that can make best use of the city's intellectual climate and bring jobs to boost its economy.

The National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) is the perfect fit, a host of Athens-Clarke officials and business leaders said at a U.S. Department of Homeland Security hearing Thursday night on the proposed bioresearch lab.

While acknowledging the fears of environmental activists and others who were among the more than 40 people to speak, Mayor Heidi Davison said she lends her "strong support to the proposal."

"This community has diligently worked to position itself for a project of this caliber," Davison said.

Or, as Davison's predecessor, Doc Eldridge, now president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, put it: "If not this, then what?"

Davison, like several other supporters, also urged Homeland Security to form a citizens advisory board like one at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to ease the minds of concerned residents.

"Validating and properly addressing those [concerns] through an exchange such as this gives them the legitimacy they deserve and is critical to the success of the project," she said.

And the concerns were legion: Exactly how will the lab dispose of waste? Will it be too big? Will it cause traffic jams? Will it cause erosion that wrecks the water quality in the Middle Oconee River? How will it affect the state botanical gardens next door to the South Milledge Avenue site? Will local vaccine manufacturer Merial end up producing vaccines that could leak out? Who would respond to an accident?

"I'm in favor of this facility, just not at this location," said Sonny Register, who lives nearby, jabbing his finger for emphasis. …

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