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Friday, March 31, 2006  
Area test site may see bio-weapons and crop sustaining methods added

By: Bob Browne
Published In: San Joaquin News Service

Last updated: Friday, Mar 31, 2006 - 06:59:32 am PST

A high explosives test site southwest of Tracy could end up on the list of candidate sites for a new federal research to combat animal and crop diseases as well as bio-weapons.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security put out the call in January for researchers around the U.S. to describe how they could create and operate a new "national bioand agro-defense facility."

The front entrance to Site 300 off Corral Hollow road, south of Tracy, is shown in this undated photograph. (News-Sentinel file photo)

The department wants researchers to guard the U.S. against common biological threats like diseases that could come in the country by way of imported plants and animals.

But it also cites the threat of bio-terrorism as outlined by President Bush in a Jan. 30, 2004, directive to the department.

The department describes the yet-to-be-developed research station as a replacement for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, built in the 1950s.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 put that center under the control of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which wants to build a new center to house researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The University of California this year put in its proposal for the "National Zoonotic and Agricultural Research Center." The center would draw on resources at the university's medical centers, campuses and research labs, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Site 300, the lab's 7,000-acre high explosives test site along Corral Hollow Road in the hills between Tracy and Livermore.

Susan Houghton, senior public relations manager for the lab, said there is land within Site 300 that could accommodate a research center.

According to a "request for expressions of interest" published in the Federal Register on Jan. 19, the Department of Homeland Security wants at least 30 acres where it can build a 500,000-square-foot research center - roughly twice the size of Wal-Mart.

"A lot of states are clamoring for this because it's a prestigious facility and will bring a lot of researchers and scientists to the area," she said.

Houghton said the university had asked lab officials if it could help create a plan for the research complex. The expression of interest is just the first round, and if the University of California is selected it would be part of a larger environmental review.

"What we're doing now is putting together an executive summary that would describe what we could offer if we were considered," she said.

The University of California expects the lab would create new jobs for as many as 300 scientists and researchers. Site 300 is ideal among the places the university uses for research for this type of work because it is already secure and safe. Homeland Security wants to include "biosafety level 4" laboratories, among the most secure lab ratings, within the complex.

"This is a highly regarded opportunity and the University of California has experience in large-scale facility management," said UC spokesman Chris Harrington.

He said that final approval of the site's use for biological research would be up to the Department of Energy, which owns the site.

Harrington said the university is already engaged in the effort to prevent foreign diseases from taking hold in the U.S., especially in the heightened security environment since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've been actively involved in responding to national security issues," he said. "The University of California is the largest public research institution in the world, covering a breadth of areas including homeland security."

Contact reporter Bob Brownne at

First published: Friday, March 31, 2006

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