WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security said Friday that it will move forward with planning and construction of a new biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, after the project cleared its environmental review.
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, scheduled to be completed in 2008, will have Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, which handle the most dangerous and infectious agents known to man. It will research the causes of those diseases, and develop countermeasures to combat the threat of bioterrorism.
A final environmental impact statement released Friday said construction and operation of the center would have “negligible to minor adverse impacts” and that the need for biodefense labs outweighed the negative environmental impacts.
Contracts for the project are expected to be awarded in March.
Frederick County Commission Vice President Michael Cady said he was “delighted” that the center is coming to the county. Fort Detrick and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) that it currently houses “are wonderful neighbors, and I’m happy that they’re a part of Frederick County,” Cady said.
The new facility will share space with other biodefense laboratories at the National Interagency Biodefense Campus, which will be adjacent to USAMRIID. Other federal agencies taking part in biodefense research at the campus include the Department of Defense, Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health.
Cady said Fort Detrick is the biggest economic entity in the area, contributing to the county’s continued growth over the last several years, and he estimated that the new facility will bring 6,000 new jobs to the area.
He said he is confident that the agencies involved “will take all the necessary precautions,” and that residents of Frederick County “will not suffer any adverse consequences.”
Cady said that there was no significant opposition to the project. The public input that county commissioners had received was mostly “questions” about the project, he said, adding that he was confident that Homeland Security had fully addressed all public concerns about the facility’s presence.
The environmental impact statement released Friday came after public meetings, community forums and a public comment period as well as a department assessment of the laboratory’s expected impact.
Both Greenpeace and the Sierra Club said Friday that their organizations had no position on infectious disease labs like the ones at Fort Detrick.
Cady said that the site poses no additional risk to the residents of Frederick County, and noted that there had been few incidents at the existing facilities.
“I have no reservations” about the new site, he said.
Cady noted that biodefense research is vital to security of the nation, and that he was “delighted that Frederick County is a part of that effort.”
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