Maura In The News

Biolab debate to invade council chambers
Turner will try to ban such facilities
By Christine MacDonald, Globe Correspondent, 3/14/2004

Drama surrounding a proposed top-security bio-defense lab will soon shift to the City Council, when councilors convene to hear from project supporters and foes. Last week, City Councilor James Kelly -- whose district includes the South End, where the lab would be built -- said he will hold a hearing at City Hall early next month.

Boston University Medical Center won a $128 million federal grant last fall to construct the lab, which is expected to pursue cures for some of the world's most lethal agents, such as Ebola and small pox. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Governor Mitt Romney have given their support, saying the project would have tight security and enhance Boston's status as a biotech center. Opponents, however, are seeking to build momentum behind a proposal from City Councilor Chuck Turner to ban Biosafety Level 4 labs in Boston.

Councilors Felix Arroyo and Maura Hennigan have pledged to cosponsor Turner's ordinance when he is ready to formally present it to the council. But they would need support from nine councilors to overturn a likely Menino veto, Turner told activists, who packed a basement meeting room in the Fenway March 4.

"Right now, what's critically important is to put pressure on the council," Turner said.

Boston neighborhood activists have joined forces with environmentalists and scientists from Boston University, MIT, and other area colleges to try to block the proposed lab.

At the March 4 meeting, Fenway activists grilled their council representative, Michael Ross, on his position. Ross listened, flanked by a panel of lab opponents. He told the audience he hadn't heard enough to oppose the lab, but promised to learn more.

"I have an open mind. I'm not hardened on this one," Ross said. "I am willing to kind of evolve and maybe move forward and get where you guys want me to be."

He criticized BU officials for not doing more to dispel safety concerns.

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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