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38 questions for Homeland Security

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After nearly a year, many questions posed by Raleigh’s Public Utilities Department about a proposed federal disease lab remain unanswered. This is despite assurances from federal Department of Homeland Security officials that they would be addressed in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the National Agro and Bio-Defense Facility, which could be sited in Butner.

At an Aug. 5 Raleigh City Council meeting, City Manager Russell Allen plans to present elected officials with a draft of a letter to the Science and Technology directorate of the Department of Homeland Security containing the city’s continuing concerns about building the NBAF.

Raleigh city leaders have withheld support for the project pending Homeland Security’s response to their concerns, particularly about the potential impact on Falls Lake, the city’s primary source of drinking water.

Last September, Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp sent a letter to Homeland Security officials with 38 questions about the disease lab’s operations, including water quality sampling and monitoring, engineering controls, security and emergency response procedures. (View a PDF of the letter)

“We didn’t get a specific response. We had heard we would not, only that they would address those issues in the DEIS,” Crisp said, adding “Based on our initial review of the DEIS, it doesn’t appear that it did.”

Crisp said the city’s two main concerns are the ability of the Southern Granville Water and Sewer Authority to handle wastewater from the NBAF, and possible additional development in the area as a result of the lab.

Wastewater would flow into Falls Lake, which already has problems with turbidity—or how clear the water is—in the area closest to Butner. High turbidity can be caused by excessive dirt and debris from urban runoff, or algae, which can influence other aspects of water quality.

The state Division of Water Quality has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to place Falls Lake on the federal impaired waters list for turbidity and algae levels. The EPA has yet to respond, Crisp said.

“We can treat the water for drinking,” Crisp said, “but this is a signal something more is going on.”

Read a draft of the letter (PDF) Allen has prepared to send to Homeland Security.

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