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Durham rep requests $25 million for NBAF

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Call it a family favor.

State Rep. W.A. "Winkie" Wilkins, a Democrat representing Durham and Person counties, has introduced a bill that would appropriate $25 million to Granville County for infrastructure related to the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility—should it be sited in Butner.

Wilkins' brother, Mike Wilkins, is the vice president of statewide operations and economic development for the N.C. Biotechnology Center, one of the groups lobbying the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to place NBAF in Butner. Four other cities are also competing for the facility: Flora, Miss.; San Antonio, Texas; Athens, Ga.; and Manhattan, Kan.

A former legislator, Mike Wilkins told the Indy earlier this month that he had approached Democratic state Rep. Jim Crawford, who represents Granville and Vance counties, to sponsor the bill.

At the time, Crawford said he was undecided.

Rep. Wilkins could not be reached Wednesday afternoon for comment.

If the bill passes, the money reportedly would go to upgrading roads, sewer and other utilities that would serve the plant.

Durham resident Kathryn Spann, who opposes NBAF, met with Wilkins Wednesday morning to discuss the legislation, House Bill 2635.

"Representative Wilkins has a strong background of principled voting," Spann said. "He may not have received full information on this."

Last week, members of the Government Accountability Office testified before Congress that Homeland Security had withheld documents pertaining to environmental impact studies for the proposed sites. Moreover, DHS relied on a flawed and inaccurate Agriculture Department study to justify recommending the relocation of the research center from Plum Island to mainland United States. (See "NBAF lambasted in Congress.")

NBAF researchers would study some of the world's most contagious diseases, including those that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Foot-and-mouth disease, a devastating and highly infectious disease that affects cattle, pigs and sheep, is currently studied at Plum Island, but that research would move to NBAF. An outbreak would likely disable the livestock industry, resulting in the ban of exports.

At the congressional hearing, it was revealed that there have been more than 100 accidents over the past four years at high-level disease research labs—the majority as a result of human error.

"Fundamental safety problems remain," Spann said. "Agriculture is one-fifth of our economy. Foot-and-mouth disease will devastate this state. And over the 50-year lifespan of the facility, we must expect at least one disease would be released. We don't have an ocean perimeter."

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