Two military watchdog groups say they'll wait to see the environmental study the Army prepares on its proposed new Dugway germ lab before deciding whether to take the Army to court.
The Army announced last week it would prepare a supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Biosafety Level 3 aerosol test facility it plans to build as part of a new life sciences building at Dugway Proving Ground.Last year, heavy public opposition prompted the military to back away from plans to build a separate, more secure Biosafety Level 4 lab. The BL-4 containment level would have allowed the testing of aerosols made from genetically engineered germs with no known vaccines.
The Army said it had no plans to test genetically engineered organisms, but opponents, including the Utah-based Downwinders group and the Foundation on Economic Trends, based in Washington, D.C., were not satisfied.
A foundation lawsuit had forced the Army to prepare an environmental impact statement on the BL-4 lab plan. And foundation officials later threatened to return to court if the Army tried to proceed with the BL-3 option without a full new study.
After the Army's announcement last week, Andrew Kimbrell, the foundation's attorney and policy director, said the group will wait to see the supplemental draft impact statement on the latest proposal. But he said he's "extremely skeptical" of whether anything less than a complete new study will be adequate. Downwinders spokesman Steve Erickson agreed.
Erickson said he's also still waiting for Gov. Norm Bangerter to appoint the Dugway advisory committee that state officials have promised to organize.
"It's been one full year and they still haven't appointed the committee," he said.
State Science Adviser Randy Moon said he understands the governor will be announcing those committee appointments this week. The State Advisory Council on Science and Technology visited Dugway last September, partly to get an idea of what kinds of people should be on the new committee, so the council could recommend names.
In October, Moon met with representatives of the Division of Environmental Health and others to go over the list of names. Half are to be technical people and half, members of the general public.
"It's probably a little embarrassing for all of us that it took so long (to appoint the panel), but again there was nothing pushing it," Moon said. After backing away from its BL-4 lab proposal last fall, the Army deliberated for several months internally before making last week's announcement.
Now that the BL-3 proposal is on the table, it's important to move ahead with the committee, he said.