Monday, August 11, 2008

If You Build It, Some Might Come

The State Journal's AP pile held an interesting tidbit, today. Apparently, the National biothreat lab that the UW Madison was hoping to host at its Kegonsa Research Campus might be going to Mississippi. Well, probably not anymore if people want to save face. It seems that Flora Mississippi was one of five sites short-listed for the facility over several places (including UW's KRC) that were scored higher by an expert panel.

The panel was overruled by a political appointee, Undersecratary Jay Cohen, who obviously took more away from his meetings on the subject with Mississippi representative Bennie Thompson (D- MS) than Thompson did. Thompson claimed never to have talked with anyone at Homeland Security about the center. The department says he talked to Cohen twice. Indeed, all of Mississippi's powerful congressional delegation seemed very sure they weren't aware of the ratings system and indignant that such a "rumor" would get started. At any rate, the department was free to disregard the recommendations of this "phantom panel."

Bottom line, it stinks and clearly Cohen anticipated why. With several biotech powerhouses vying for the opportunity to host the center (UW - Madison kept company in the losers pile with sites in California, Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Missouri) why slip in Flora Mississippi? Cohen's logic on the subject is a simple misquote of Kevin Costner, "When Built, they come."

The phrase holds partly true here. No-doubt, Homeland Security could build the thing in Guam and they'd find people to staff it. The question is, who? Are top researchers in bacteriology and virology, who can command a lucrative research position at any of the multiple institutions trying to lure them, going to pack up and move to rural Mississippi? What opportunities for collaborative research and technology transfer are going to be lost because the lab is unaffiliated with a major biotech hub? Did anyone consider any sort of accountability to the taxpayers to build the facility someplace that might actually facilitate its function?

Oh well, another victory for blatant cronyism. Maybe, with better placed congresspeople, UW could snag a federal grant to study gulf-coast hurricanes.

p.s. It should be noted that, in dismissing UW-Madison's bid, Cohen cited local opposition in the form of resolutions from the Town of Dunn and the Dane County Board. I suggest that, in thanks to the board and town for torpedoing a multi-hundred-million-dollar facility to pander to a bunch of cottagers, we uproot the disgusting monolith of a courthouse the county threw up in the middle of one of Madison's signature views and plant it squarely on the shores of Lake Kegonsa. Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, because we really want an anthrax research center just south of the second biggest city in the state. Ever think the original lab was put on Plum Island for a reason?

Pete Gruett said...

The only anthrax breach I'm familiar with involved a guy sending it through the mail. The safety factor didn't really increase with distance in that case.