The Army, which retreated last year from plans to build a large germ lab in Utah, said Thursday it wants to build a refrigerator-size lab within a new life sciences building at Dugway Proving Ground.
Another option, not adopted, would have been a separate germ lab.The Army's announcement represented something of a middle ground in a controversy with environmental and watchdog groups. These groups had threatened to sue if the Army didn't prepare a whole new environmental impact statement on its latest proposal. The Army had hoped to avoid the time and expense involved by just using the statement it had prepared for its earlier, higher-containment-level lab proposal.
But Thursday the Army announced it will do a supplemental draft impact statement to consider the new configuration.
Gov. Norm Bangerter, one of the chief opponents of the larger lab, said he wants to appoint a state committee to monitor the new plans.
Army officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael W. Owen, met with Bangerter early Thursday to discuss their plans. The new facility will be smaller than the one originally planned but will give the Army the capability of doing what it wanted to do in the first place.
The Army originally wanted to build a separate building to house a laboratory to turn dangerous, genetically engineered germs into aerosols. The aerosols would be used to test equipment the Army is developing to overcome such germs if used in a war.
However, officials said that building would have been much larger than was needed. The building would have been a "BL level 4" lab, while the Army only needs a level 3 facility to conduct its tests.
Instead, the new facility would be inside a proposed life sciences center that would also be used for other types of experiments.
"We found it wouldn't be much more expensive to build a level 4 facility," said Col. Bob Fitz. "We probably blindly allowed ourselves to get caught up in that logic."
Owen told Bangerter the Army is going to begin studying the environmental effects of the smaller facility, and that the public will be given a chance to respond at hearings this fall.
If the study and hearings go as planned, construction on the facility could begin in April 1991, Army officials said.
The new environmental impact study will be done as a supplement to the old study of the larger lab, partially because Army officials say they don't want the public to think they are being less than honest. The old study still is in a draft form.
"If we went out on the street and started talking about an aerosol facility in a life sciences center, people would say we were hoodwinking them," Owen said.
Bangerter said he so far does not oppose the plans.
"I don't know if I have a problem, but I want to see the environmental impact study before I sign off," he said.
After abandoning plans for a larger facility, Army officials last year said they wanted to remodel a building at Dugway to insert a germ lab. They said Thursday it will cost little more to put the lab inside the life sciences center.