Local officials and area residents gathered on campus Sept. 20 to express their support for and, in some cases, share their concerns about the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
A UGA-owned site on South Milledge Avenue near Whitehall Road is one of six finalists selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the NBAF, a new federal facility that would study foreign animal diseases and zoonotic diseases, which are those that can transmit from livestock to humans. UGA is spearheading the statewide collaboration working to bring NBAF to Georgia.
DHS held the meeting to seek public input that will guide its environmental impact assessment. Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison, who spoke in support of the facility, said it presents an economic opportunity that is consistent with the city’s efforts to build a clean, knowledge-based economy based on its expertise in life sciences and agricultural research.
“NBAF is the right project for Athens, and Athens is the right location for NBAF,” Davison said. “This community has diligently worked to position itself for a project of this caliber.”
Davison asked DHS to create a citizens’ committee, similar to the one that operates at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which would keep the community apprised of activities at the lab. Jamie Johnson, the DHS NBAF program manager, said he is committed to keeping the community involved.
“I feel very strongly that no matter where it’s sited that we will have community forums as an opportunity to engage in two-way dialogue with the public, community leaders (and) civic leaders,” he said.
Sheila Allen, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, emphasized the educational impact of the facility on the university and said it will give future veterinary students greater opportunities in biomedical research.
A number of citizens criticized the proposed location of the facility, saying that the facility—whose square footage will be slightly larger than that of the 425,000 square-foot Ramsey Student Center—conflicts with the semi-rural character of the area. Others worried that sediment from construction of the facility might harm the nearby Middle Oconee River. Johnson said the environmental impact statement, which will be released in draft form with the opportunity for public comment in the spring, will address impacts on water resources, human health and safety and land use. A final EIS will be issued in fall 2008, and a decision on the final NBAF site will be shortly thereafter. “No matter where this facility is going to be sited, it’s going to be aesthetically pleasing, and it’s going to fit in the environment,” Johnson said.