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Saturday, April 14, 2007  
Homeland Security starts visits at Site 300

By: Mike Martinez, staff writer
Published In: Tri-Valley Herald

SUBTITLE: Agency looking at places for bio-ag defense research facility



TRACY ? Federal officials said Friday they were beginning site visits on Monday of potential homes for a national bio- and agro-defense research facility, and the first place being visited is Lawrence Livermore Laboratorys Site 300.



The bio-ag facility, being built by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, would research and develop cures for life-threatening diseases ? affecting both humans and animals ? for which there is no known cure.



It would be one of a handful of biosafety level 4 labs ? the highest level of containment ? in the country and provide upward of 350 jobs, DHS officials said.



During a conference call Friday, James Johnson, the DHS director of national laboratories, said studying viruses such as the dengue and ebola were not a part of the proposed labs mission and wouldnt be studied there.



Johnson said the visiting committee consists of 13 federal employees representing not only DHS, but the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Health and Human Services, among others.



Teams will go out and look at each of the sites to help reach a final decision, Johnson said. The (environmental review) process takes about 16 months and results in a decision by October 2008. If we end up selecting a single site, construction is expectedto start in fiscal year 2010 and commence operations in 2014.



A short list of finalists is expected to be reached sometime in June.



In August, the federal government named Site 300 ?

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located in the hills above Tracy and straddling the border between San Joaquin and Alameda counties ? as one of 17 finalists for the facility.



Homeland Security has outlined three main criteria ? research capabilities and access to work force; acquisition, construction and operation of the facility; and community acceptance ? with more sub-criteria, being examined during each daylong visit



DHS officials said pressure from politicians, especially influential members of Congress, wont have a bearing on the selection of finalists or eventual winner.



We have an incredibly rigorous process here, said Nicole Marcson, a DHS attorney. We are judging the consortium on their (criteria), there isnt room for external political pressure in the review plan.



Community acceptance could be the swing vote in the selection of Site 300.



In February, the Tracy City Council voted 3-1 to direct the city manager to send a letter opposing Site 300 as the site of the proposed laboratory.



Mayor Pro-Tem Suzanne Tucker cast the lone no vote and Mayor Brent Ives recused himself from discussions because hes employed by Livermore Lab.



In January, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of supporting Site 300.



Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, who represents the south county area including Tracy, voted in favor of the resolution and said passage of the resolution is no guarantee the board is going to support the facility later on.



Livermore-based Tri-Valley CARES, a lab watchdog group with more than 5,000 members has a growing list of 1,000 signatures plus another 1,600 e-mails sent to the head of Homeland Security expressing opposition to the proposed lab.



Susan Houghton, a spokeswoman for Site 300, said she has received support from more than 20 different local agencies, something the lab officials hope would tip the community support portion of the visit into their favor.



Houghton said lab officials on Monday will show the contingent three proposed locations on the 7,000-acre testing grounds.



Whats important now is the process of getting out more information, Houghton said. As more becomes available, people will become comfortable with this project. There are a lot of people that dont have enough information and its easy to be afraid of a something you dont know a lot about.



The facility is expected to be 500,000 square feet in size, with suites compartmentalized inside the building. DHS officials said all waste, including sewage and water, would be treated before it leaves the building.



DHS officials were unsure but they believe there are upwards of six level 4 containment facilities either in operation or under construction in the United States, including the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and two more in Texas.



Mike Martinez can be reached at (209) 832-3947 or mmartinez@trivalleyherald.com.




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