Congressman Hal Rogers got a standing ovation of support early yesterday at a public forum and informational session about a proposed National Bio and Agro-defense facility in northeastern Pulaski County.

An estimated 400 attended the 9 a.m. chamber of commerce-sponsored meeting in the theater at the Center for Rural Development. There were numerous positive comments about the $500 million national research laboratory. A few expressions of concern were voiced by property owners in the vicinity of the proposed laboratory location.

“The comments (from property owners) were not negative at all,” said Greg Jones, executive director of Southern Kentucky Economic Development Corporation. “They were questions of concern that any property owner would have asked.”

The laboratory is not a done deal. March 31 is the deadline for filing “expressions of interest” by states that would like to have the center for animal disease control located within their borders. Rogers predicted that competition for the laboratory “ ... will be very, very tough.”

Rogers has put together a two-state consortium of political and educational leaders to support the “expression of interest.” He announced the project Feb. 20 in Frankfort.

“Gov. Fletcher said during his campaign that he wanted to bring a federal laboratory to Kentucky,” Rogers observed. The congressman said at the time that he didn’t believe the federal government would build any more of the research laboratories.

“Later, I learned that the Department of Homeland Security planned to build a new laboratory to replace the Plum Island (New York) facility,” said Rogers. In Pulaski County’s favor, Rogers said, is the multi-state (Kentucky and Tennessee) application. It would be the only laboratory of its type in the central part of the United States and along the I-75 corridor.

The proposed site of the laboratory in Pulaski County is on the Brook Ping farm located on the Mark-Welborn Road. The area is two miles west of the Valley Oak Commerce Complex and between Ky. 461 and Ky. 39.

Rogers said a site for the laboratory will be selected in 2007, construction will begin in 2008 and the facility will begin operation in 2012.

“It will be the Department of Homeland Security’s premier laboratory for animal disease research,” Rogers remarked.

The Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation has an option to buy 150 acres of the Ping farm that reportedly was already listed for sale. It would be the site for a laboratory complex that will contain 500,000 square feet over 30 acres of the 150-acre site.

Ping told the Commonwealth Journal that the 150-acre parcel under option by the development foundation is part of a 263-farm. This is one of several farms owned by Ping, a lifelong farmer.

The laboratory will handle Bio-Safety Level 4 materials involving some of the world’s most dangerous biological diseases -- diseases that potentially could become weapons of terrorists.

However, Craig N. Carter, professor and section chief epidemiology diplomate, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, along with Rogers and Ewell H. Balltrip, executive director and CEO of the National Institute for Hometown Security, assured the chamber-dominated crowd that the proposed laboratory would be safe. Everything, even the air inside the laboratory, will be self-contained, they said.

“It will be completely safe,” reiterated Rogers. “If it were not safe, I would not try to bring it to my hometown where I live and within a few miles of my two granddaughters,” he declared. The congressman said there has never been an accident or incident in the history of similar laboratories, most of which are located in heavily populated urban areas.

Alluding often to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Rogers said the biggest advantage to the proposed laboratory in Pulaski County would be pharmaceutical companies that want to be near the research. He predicted an economic explosion in the area with “tens of thousands” of new jobs. Rogers said Oak Ridge, before the laboratory, was a rural area. Now, he called it “ a teeming metropolis.”

The Pulaski County laboratory would attract some 300 of the nation’s top scientists. Pay for the scientists would average $100,000 a year and the average salary for the support staff would be $50,000 annually. Reportedly, as many as 8,000 jobs would be created during the four-to-five year construction period.

“The Department of Homeland Security is looking to see if you want it,” said Rogers. “If you want to see Kentucky become the premier research state ... go for it! If you don’t want it, you’ll get what’s left behind.”

Rogers said an application could have been made for the laboratory without anyone knowing about it. However, he said the decision was made that the people have a right to know.

“Once a site is selected, there will be so many public hearings that you’ll get blue in the face,” he promised.

Rogers asked local organizations and governments to adopt resolutions of support for the project. Jack Keeney, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s board of directors would act on a resolution of support at its next regular or possibly a special session. Mark Haney, a well-known Nancy farmer, will chair a citizens’ support group for the project, Rogers said.

Pulaski County Judge-Executive Darrell BeShears said fiscal court would consider a resolution of support at a scheduled meeting yesterday afternoon. Somerset Mayor JP Wiles said Somerset City Council adopted a resolution of support Monday night, Mayor Dean Lovins of Burnside said he would ask Burnside City Council next Monday night to adopt a resolution of support for the project and Pulaski County Public Safety Officer Tiger Robinson reminded Rogers that the local Hazmat team supports the laboratory. Jeff Seraphine, CEO of Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, said the hospital is ready to provide any medical needs that such the laboratory facility might require.

Rogers turned cheerleader as the session ended.

“If you want it, give it (support) to me now!” Rogers declared to a standing ovation.

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