Eastern Ky. Site To Be Reviewed For High Security Lab

SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) - A team of federal inspectors will visit an eastern Kentucky county to look at a 150-acre site that's been proposed as home for a national laboratory that would handle deadly animal diseases.

The April 23 visit to Pulaski County is one of 17 around the country being made by a team from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A list of finalists will be done by the end of June, said James Johnson, who runs Homeland Security's office of national laboratories.

The department would conduct environmental studies on the finalists to help it determine the best location. A winner should be announced in October 2008, with design and construction between 2010 and 2014, according to the schedule.

The $450 million high-security lab would handle a variety of diseases, including some that could be transmitted to humans. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning to build a $450 million high-security laboratory to replace a 50-year-old animal disease center on Plum Island off Long Island in New York.

The lab will study the role of animal diseases in terrorism, among other tasks, officials said. The lab would handle diseases for which there may be no vaccine or cure.

Johnson said officials will evaluate several criteria during the visit, including the proximity to other research facilities, availability of a local work force, land acquisition and construction issues. Community acceptance.

A group including the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have pitched the proposal. Kentucky and Tennessee announced their joint bid for the 500,000-square-foot Bio-Agro Defense Facility in February 2006.

The Kentucky site is on farmland about 10 miles northwest of Somerset.

"We're going to roll out the red carpet," said Jack Keeney, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

The bid is competing with proposals in Texas, California, Kansas, Maryland, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

The proposal faces some opposition from local residents, who have formed Citizens Against a Kentucky Biolab and have developed a
Web site, www.nokybiolab.org.

Somerset resident Kenneth King said area residents are afraid that the facility might leak. The group's president, David Taylor, a farmer who lives within a half-mile of the proposed lab location, said it has collected signatures from 6,000 opponents.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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