George Corrigan doesn't consider himself the activist type.
But the 46-year-old patent attorney has mounted a campaign to stop the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from selecting land in the town of Dunn for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Opposition from Corrigan, the Town Board and other residents may hurt the case UW-Madison is making for landing the federal facility, which would lead the nation in animal disease research and inject billions of dollars into the state's economy.
The $400 million, 500,000-square-foot lab would employ as many as 400 people and study the world's deadliest animal diseases, seeking to develop drugs and vaccines.
Corrigan and other critics worry the big, busy lab wouldn't fit the town's rural character.
Some also fear the possibility of a security breach that would allow the release of a disease. Federal and university officials maintain that risk is minimal.
The university is one of 14 groups vying for the project. It would replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, which was one of the original 29 contenders, but not selected as a semifinalist.
UW-Madison and supporters such as Gov. Jim Doyle and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk have proposed locating the lab on 40 of the 160 acres the university owns across the road from its Physical Sciences Laboratory and the Synchrotron Radiation Center just west of Lake Kegonsa.
The site qualified in August as one of 18 semifinalists. Three finalists are to be announced this summer. Construction would begin in 2009 and the facility would open in 2013.
Opposition campaign When Corrigan learned the facility could be built less than a mile from the stone cottage where he lives part of the year, he wasn't concerned at all. "I thought it was a small place that would fit in," he said.
The Appleton resident wanted to learn more after he found out it would be three times the size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and it would replace Plum Island, which had to address security issues raised by the U.S. General Accounting Office in a 2003 report.
Corrigan was one of more than 100 people who attended a town of Dunn meeting on Nov. 30 to ask questions. He said university officials were "woefully unprepared" to provide answers, which "made me dig farther," Corrigan said.
He began posting information on a Web site: stopnbafkegonsa.com. He sent out 1,800 letters and began distributing more than 800 black-and-white yard signs.
When federal officials visit the site on April 30, Corrigan plans to set up more yard signs along roads. He's also asking residents to park their cars along the road with signs in the windows to punctuate their opposition, which has fomented since November.
In December, the three-member town of Dunn board voted unanimously to oppose the site. Board Chairman Ed Minihan, who took a neutral position when originally asked last February, said he found the project to be "highly problematic" because of its size and the type of research being conducted.
"This thing is (currently) on an island for a reason," Minihan said. "I don't dispute that that work should be done, but there are places to put it where you have less exposure to large populations."
Minihan noted the town of Dunn site is next to property the town is protecting from development.
Last week, Dane County Board member Patrick Miles of McFarland submitted a resolution calling on the County Board to oppose the location. Miles said he wants to establish the board's position before, rather than after, the federal government narrows the list.
Like Corrigan, Miles focuses on how the project doesn't fit with the rural setting. Both are also concerned the size of the project will increase runoff and create environmental problems for nearby Lake Kegonsa.
\ County permit needed
The facility would need a conditional-use permit from Dane County, but would not require rezoning, which the town could veto, university officials said.
State Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, said the university asked for his support about a week before the proposal was submitted last March, but at the time he wanted to hear from his constituents before making a decision.
"The people who should have the biggest say on this issue are the people living in the town of Dunn," Parisi said. "Right now they don't support it, so I can't get behind it."
State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, has not taken an official position on the issue, his spokeswoman said.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has supported bringing the project to Wisconsin but has not expressed an opinion on a location, her spokeswoman said.
"I fully support the development of this research facility in south-central Wisconsin, providing that all questions and security concerns of the community in which it is located are fully addressed," Baldwin said in a statement.
\ University action
Federal officials have said "community acceptance" is one of the criteria being used to evaluate each site. The university, however, had limited time to select a site and gauge public interest.
After learning about the federal project in January 2006, university officials put together an application, which was due by last March 31. One official noted other applicants were aware of the project before it was listed in the Federal Register on Jan. 19, 2006, and UW-Madison officials didn't become aware of it until a week later.
"At that time, there was a bit of a scramble," said Irwin Goldman, associate dean for research in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
University leaders selected the Kegonsa site over a UW-Madison research station in Arlington and the University Research Park in Madison, according to James Tracy, associate dean for research in the School of Veterinary Medicine.
The university obtained support from local leaders and, as a result, stated in its application that there was "enthusiastic support" for bringing the project to Madison.
In addition to university affiliates, local biotech companies and statewide agricultural organizations, the proposal received letters of support from Doyle, former state Senate President Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, state Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, and state Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse -- at the time, Ott and Kapanke were chairmen of their respective agricultural committees -- and Falk, who said the Kegonsa campus was "perfect" for the project.
Supporters of the project maintain it makes sense considering the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin and Dane County. It will deliver as many as 400 high-skill research jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and potentially between $3.5 billion and $6 billion to the state's economy over 20 years, according to an analysis from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Falk said she would be open to other local sites, and noted that she recommended the Kegonsa site because of how the project fits into the broader regional picture and because of existing research facilities there.
Other villages, including Mount Horeb and Sun Prairie, expressed interest in hosting the facility after the application was filed, Tracy said. But the federal government will not allow the university to swap sites if selected, a Homeland Security spokesman said.
\ Environmental study
Mark Bugher, director of the University Research Park, said public resistance is premature because there hasn't been a plan presented yet for what the facility will look like and how it will affect the community.
If the Kegonsa site is a finalist, the federal government will conduct an environmental impact study and collect public input. At that point, any opposition would need to be based on "merit, fact and sound science instead of passionate, political reaction," Bugher said.
As for safety concerns, the university acknowledges that there are always risks involved with disease research, but laboratories with the highest security level, biosafety level 4, have been operating safely for years at nearly a dozen locations including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The university is preparing a series of events to explain the science of the research. University officials will present information to the Dane County Board today at 5 p.m. in the County Board Room in the City-County Building.
Goldman said one of the things that struck him at the November town meeting was the level of misinformation about the facility. A number of people were concerned the facility would develop biological weapons, which university and federal officials say is simply not true.
Goldman isn't bothered by the politics.
"It's just like science," Goldman said. "You've got to lay it on the table and then let people pick it apart."
\ The semifinalists
UW-Madison is one of 14 national semifinalists vying for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which would replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The field will be narrowed to three finalists in June. The following 18 sites were selected from an original field of 29:
University of California/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Georgia Consortium for Health and Agro-Security (2 sites)
BioAgro Consortium (Kansas, 2 sites)
Kentucky and Tennessee NBAF Consortium (Kentucky)
Mid-Atlantic Bio-Ag Defense Consortium (Maryland)
Gulf States Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium (Mississippi, 3 sites)
University of Missouri at Columbia NBAF Consortium
North Carolina Consortium for the NBAF
Oklahoma State University Consortium
Texas A&M University and the NBAF Consortium
Brooks Development Authority and Brooks City-Base Foundation (Texas)
Texas Research and Technology Foundation (San Antonio NBAF Consortium)
Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (San Antonio NBAF Consortium)
Wisconsin Consortium (UW-Madison site at the Kegonsa Research Facility)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
\ Research center supporters
UW-Madison, Gov. Jim Doyle and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk are among the supporters of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. It would bring with it hundreds of high-skill research jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and billions of dollars to the state's economy.
Residents in the town of Dunn worry that a 500,000-square-foot facility with 400 employees would affect the environment and traffic. Many also fear the possibility of a security breach in a lab studying the world's deadliest animal diseases.
\ If you go
What: UW-Madison presentation to the Dane County Board on the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
When: 5 p.m. today.
Where: County Board Room, City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Why: The meeting is not a public hearing, but is an opportunity to learn more about the project, which would be built in the town of Dunn. The university is one of 14 semifinalists in a national search to relocate the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.