Sites in 5 states are finalists for national germ lab

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, July 12, 2007

The federal government has selected sites in Mississippi and four other states as finalists for a $450 million national lab where killer germs like anthrax, avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease will be studied, members of Congress said Wednesday.

Sites in Texas, Georgia, Kansas, and North Carolina also were chosen as possible hosts for the 520,000-square-foot National Bio- and Agro-Defense Lab, said senators from Mississippi, Texas and Kansas and Mississippi and Texas House members.

The Department of Homeland Security declined comment. It planned an official announcement later Wednesday.

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and members of the state’s congressional delegation said in a joint news release that they will continue to try to land the project for the state.

“This is significant for the 2nd Congressional District and the state of Mississippi,” said U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “The diverse array of community and university involvement, without question, strengthens the Mississippi proposal.”

The sites were chosen by a team from the Homeland Security, along with the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

The facility will replace an aging, smaller lab at Plum Island, N.Y., where security lapses after the 2001 terrorist attacks drew scrutiny from Congress and government investigators. It would bring at least 300 lab-related jobs, and more in construction, officials have said.

Congress provided money for the $47 million design and architecture, but no money has been appropriated for construction or operations yet.

The winner should be announced next year, with the lab operating by 2014.

The lab will have the highest-level security rating, since it would be equipped to handle the most lethal, incurable disease agents.

Sites that made the final cut are in San Antonio; Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Madison County, Miss.; and Durham and Granville counties, N.C.

The Mississippi site is in the Flora Industrial Park, about 10 miles northwest of Jackson.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the lab would bring “hundreds of good paying, professional jobs.”

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said: “Mississippi’s universities have long been national leaders in the areas of science and research, and the location of a facility of this significance in Mississippi will enable our state to expand its expertise in these fields while also generating economic opportunity in our state.”

Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, confirmed the sites selected. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, also provided information.

Sites that didn’t make the cut were in California, Oklahoma, Maryland, Missouri, Wisconsin and Kentucky, which was working with Tennessee.

The Plum Island lab to be replaced conducts research on foot-and-mouth disease and other germs to protect agriculture and livestock from foreign diseases. The new lab will do that and research on other diseases and contagions, possibly including anthrax, smallpox and Marburg and Lhassa, rare hemorrhagic fevers that attack the vascular system.

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