Group may pay more for bio-lab

ATHENS, Ga. --- A University of Georgia-led group is considering spending more money to draw a federal bioresearch laboratory to Athens, but taxpayers might never know.


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently asked five finalists for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility to revise their proposals for the $451 million lab, and the finalists have until the end of the month to respond.

At least one finalist -- Kansas -- is publicly sweetening its deal, adding more than $100 million in incentives to entice Homeland Security. Georgia officials haven't decided whether to follow suit, but if they do, they probably will keep the new offer a secret, UGA Vice President for Research David Lee said.

"We're not obligated to release information that may put us at a competitive disadvantage," said Mr. Lee, the point man for the Georgia consortium's effort to convince Homeland Security to pick an Athens site.

Releasing the updated offer would give the competition -- consortia in Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas -- inside knowledge of Georgia's bid, while Georgia would be left in the dark about other finalists' pitches, Mr. Lee said. "That could scuttle it right there," he said.

Officials will be working on revising the proposal right up until the March 31 deadline, and may consider releasing details of the updated proposal to the public after the deadline, Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee emphasized that most efforts to draw a private industry would be far less open than the NBAF process, and taxpayers usually would be kept in the dark about incentives until a deal was signed.

Homeland Security recently sent letters to each of the finalists with more detailed information about infrastructure requirements for the 520,000-square-foot lab, and asked for revised proposals by the end of March. The letters are not public, Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

In response to the letter, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said last Friday the state would build a dedicated power plant for NBAF.

The state senate approved $105 million in bonds Wednesday to pay for land and infrastructure improvements, including roads, a security fence and utilities, at a site on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, according to the Manhattan Mercury newspaper.

Ms. Sebelius also recently signed a bill dedicating up to $2 million for improvements to the Manhattan airport.

Although Ms. Sebelius has said Homeland Security is requiring a power plant, that's not the case.

"It's not a power plant where power is produced," Ms. Kudwa said. "It's a utilities plant that ties into the existing grid."