Only 36 people took advantage of a four-month extension of the deadline to comment on a controversial proposal to build a lab at Dugway capable of testing biological warfare defenses by making aerosols out of germs that cause incurable diseases.
The extended comment period on the lab's draft environmental impact statement ended Monday, said Dugway spokeswoman Kathleen B. Whitaker. It was originally supposed to end on March 28 but was extended twice.The Army is scheduled to issue a final impact statement on the lab next spring and shortly thereafter announce whether it will proceed with the $5.4 million lab. The Army would then have to obtain funding for it from Congress.
A total of 107 people submitted written comments about the lab's draft EIS - but only 36 came in after the original deadline.
Whitaker said only four of those comments favored the lab; 72 made no specific reference to the draft EIS, but generally attacked biologic warfare; and 31 criticized various portions of the draft EIS, saying more study was needed in a variety of areas.
Besides those written comments, dozens of people testified at two public hearings on the draft EIS. Whitaker said 23 people testified at a hearing in Tooele on March 14, where the speakers were fairly evenly divided over whether the lab should be built. And 36 more testified at a Salt Lake City hearing on March 23 - where virtually all speakers attacked the lab.
Those expressing opposition at the Salt Lake City hearing included Gov. Norm Bangerter; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah; state and local health departments; and a variety of local and international doctors and scientists.
Most opposition came because the Army is seeking a "biosafety level 4" lab - which could allow work with diseases without cure - although the Army claims it would do only biosafety level 3 work with diseases that have cures.
Politicians such as Bangerter said if the Army plans only BL3 work, then it should build only a BL3 lab. But the Army said a BL4 lab would provide extra levels of protection for the security of nearby residents.
Scientists worry that the lab could escalate a germ warfare race and potentially could expose nearby residents to exotic diseases. The Army denies both claims.