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NIMBYism and S&T

As the decision date slowly creeps toward us in real time, the "not in my backyard" impacts on science and technology are becoming more and more apparent. Although some people anticipate that the final decision might be delayed until after Election Day, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated that a decision on the site for the new National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) will be made sometime in the 4th Quarter.

Since I wrote the article, BioResearch: The Risk/Reward Ratio, local pressures have mounted, potentially narrowing the field of six (Butner, North Carolina, Athens, Ga., Manhattan, Kansas, Flora, Ms., and San Antonio, Tx. plus the possible re-designation of the Level 3 Plum Island facility to a Level 4).

Despite a "conclusion" (in quotes because the NBAF EIS did not actually say this) that the the Department of Homeland Security says that Plum Island's relative isolation would make an accidental pathogen release less costly relatively to such release from a mainland-based lab, New York officials strongly disagree. In fact, New York State business and political leaders agree with Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal that the Plum Island facility should not be upgraded to a Level-4 BioLab, but they argue that it would be safe to keep it operating at its current level as a Level-3 Biolab. Such a decision does not meet the needs of our National Security.

Two other significant events have occurred:

The North Carolina Consortium for the National Bio- and Agro- Defense Facility has suspended its community outreach efforts, clearly bending from the local community objections and concerns. Citing that the EIS did not adequately address the concerns of local citizens, the North Carolina Consortium for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility said:

“There is enough concern now that the local politicians have. Most of them were enthusiastic in their support a year ago. Now they either have become neutral, or have come out against most recently and said they do oppose it, because they feel their questions have not been answered thoroughly” in the Department of Homeland Security’s draft environmental impact statement describing the project, released in June, said Dave Green, a spokesman for the North Carolina Consortium for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

This, despite the comments that the NC-NBAF Committee still wants the DHS to consider it proposal.

In Athens Georgia, local citizens have threatened a law suit if the DHS decides to locate the NBAF there. A document drafted by the environmental law firm of Stack & Associates is especially critical of the EIS and its findings.

"(B)ringing deadly foreign diseases onto the mainland puts the entire nation at great risk, and is clearly not justified considering the safer location of Plum Island and Homeland Security's overarching mandate to protect the public," the comment says. "A mainland NBAF would not protect the general public, the environment, the economy or the United States' security interests. "An Athens, Georgia, NBAF is an especially outrageous option."

According to a DHS spokesperson, the threat of a law suit does not automatically disqualify the Georgia proposal.

When you then consider that the Flora Ms. site was included in the final five despite being rated 14th of 17 in the initial ratings, the "competition" for the NBAF (a facility that some of the finalist cities clearly do not want), comes down to Manhattan, Kansas and San Antonio, Texas.

It's not easy for me to be objective here.