UGA loses bid for bio lab

4 12 2008

The University of Georgia has apparently lost its bid for a $450 million laboratory to research biological threats posed by animals, including anthrax.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will be constructed at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, a staffer in a congressman’s office confirmed on Wednesday.  UGA says that if it had won the research center, it would have employed as many as 1,500 construction workers, provided permanent jobs to at least 250 people and had an economic impact of $1.5 billion over 20 years. Supporters of the Georgia bid said the facility would have also significantly raised the state’s profile as home for scientific research.

Amy Kudwa, a Homeland Security department spokeswoman, said the agency would not comment on the matter until the department officially announces its selection. It’s not clear when the announcement will come, but Homeland Security’s website notes a decision is expected in early December.

The new complex will replace an existing research facility on Plum Island, a few miles off Long Island, N.Y. That location has enabled the federal government, for more than a half-century, to prevent its research on foot-and-mouth disease from accidentally infecting American livestock.

Some critics fear that moving the facility to the U.S. mainland would raise the risk of an outbreak of potentially fatal diseases among animals and humans. Federal officials insist that a new facility will be safe.

The Kansas site was identified as Homeland Security’s top choice in an environmental impact statement dated December 2008. Lanier Avant, an aide to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said agency officials informed the congressman of the decision on Monday. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also released a statement Wednesday hailing the decision.

Public-private partnerships from Kansas and competing bidders from Texas and Mississippi offered generous financial incentives totalling $100 million from each bidder. Georgia offered $25 million in incentives.

David Lee, UGA’s vice president of research, said, “I can’t fault (the Department of Homeland Security) for choosing the Manhattan site. I felt all along that Manhattan was probably our strongest competitor.

“I also happen to think Athens is the better site,” Lee said. “We’re disappointed. I feel the disappointment of a lot of people at the University of Athens and across the state.”

In bidding for the facility, Georgia noted that UGA has other facilities that could enhance the research. Among them are the university’s school for veterinary medicine and its animal research center.

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