A $450 million national disease research laboratory is not coming to Pulaski County — but the land it would have sat on is still here.

Thus, plans are to auction the land to the highest bidder so as to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money, according to one high-ranking figure in the local economy.

Carrol Estes, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation, said that his organization purchased 168 acres of farmland in the eastern part of the county for purposes of luring a National Bio- and Agro-Defense lab. Congressman Hal Rogers and a consortium of regional universities as well the Oak Ridge National Laboratory had been heavily involved in pitching the Kentucky site’s case since February of 2006 until earlier this month, when it was announced Pulaski County was not on the list of the final five candidates for the facility.

The property, which was owned by local developer Brook Ping, was located on Mark-Welborn Road, two miles west of the Valley Oak Commerce complex, between Ky. 461 and Ky. 39. Estes said the Development Foundation had to either purchase the land or forfeit its option to do so, and thus secured it back around the time of the initial announcement that the Kentucky-Tennessee consortium was seeking the 520,000-square-foot bio-lab. The purchase figure was approximately $436,800 — 240 acres were available on the farm, but the Development Foundation opted not to claim all of it, Estes noted.

That land will not just go to waste, however, sitting unused as a grassy drain on the county’s coffers. Estes said that state law requires surplus property to be auctioned off — much like the county does with dump trucks and other types of equipment.

“We had some people who were wanting (the land), but we can’t just sell it to them,” said Estes. “We have to make it fair. Everyone has to have a chance at it. We can’t just operate like a business does.”

Estes reported that his organization’s board will go out to examine the property on Wednesday and Thursday, and ultimately make a decision as to how the land will be divided into tracts for it to be sold. However it’s handled, Estes is optimistic the county will come out ahead.

“We know for sure right now that we can get more out of it than we gave for it,” said Estes. “There will not be a loss on that property.”

After it was announced the bio-lab would not come to Kentucky on July 11, Rogers said the consortium would continue to seek out other research projects offering similar opportunities for economic development. Presumably, the eastern Pulaski land in question could still be used for another development and Estes said his group would discuss the matter with Rogers before taking any action on the property. However, it doesn’t make sense to just use it for anything, said Estes.

“You’ve got two miles of road you’d have to build, two miles of water and sewer lines,” said Estes. “By the time all that was done, you’ve put so much into it that (something besides the bio-lab) probably wouldn’t be profitable. It only was before because it was such a large project.”

Ultimately, Estes said things are in the “study phase” right now, but he sounded confident an auction would be the most likely course of action.

“We’re going to see what we need to do,” said Estes, “but we’re going to make sure the taxpayers aren’t losing any money on the land.”

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