By William F. West : The [Henderson] Daily Dispatch
The Herald-Sun

BUTNER — State Sen. Doug Berger, who now opposes a germ-fighting lab at Butner, additionally wants one of the chief proponents of the project to give back more than $262,000 obtained from a nonprofit organization for a so-called informational campaign.Berger expressed his wishes in a letter to N.C. Biotechnology Center President Norris Tolson, asking Tolson to reconsider the Golden LEAF Foundation’s award last month of funds to promote the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

The Golden LEAF Foundation was created in 1999 to help North Carolina make the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy. The foundation receives half the funds coming to the state from the tobacco master settlement agreement that resulted from lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers over smoking-related diseases.

Tolson is a member of a statewide consortium of academics and businesspeople who are seeking to have the NBAF built at the southern Granville County town.

Tolson said Friday that Berger “has a right to represent the people of his district and he has a right to his opinion. The input that the consortium has gotten from people in Granville County has been that the NBAF is a positive thing for the county,” Tolson said.

“Well, it does lead one to wonder whether the N.C. Biotech officials are deaf, blind or just dumb,” said Kathryn Spann, a member of the opposition Granville Non-Violent Action Team steering committee.

The proposed facility has been a subject of intense controversy for the last several months, with GNAT leaders citing numerous potential environmental and health hazards.

Adding to the controversy was the success of Tolson’s consortium in obtaining the more than $262,000 from Golden LEAF, which is based in Rocky Mount.

Berger, who wanted Golden LEAF to hold off on giving a grant to the consortium, said Thursday that the consortium’s effort is too late in the process and will not be educational.

“It’s propaganda,” Berger said.

Tolson disputed this assertion, saying, “The consortium wants to provide information to the citizens of Granville County so that they can make a decision based on facts.

“It never was, and still isn’t, an advocacy program,” Tolson said.

Spann countered that “I’m kind of baffled as to how this is supposed to be educating the citizens of Granville County” when Aug. 25 is the Department of Homeland Security deadline for receiving written public comments about the NBAF.

“I think Tolson and N.C. Biotech — and the consortium as whole — keeps hoping that if they state their position frequently enough, it will somehow become true,” Spann said.

Golden LEAF’s action last month provoked much criticism about the appearance of supporting one side in a two-sided issue.

John Hood, president of the conservative, Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation, additionally questioned the ethics of two Golden LEAF board members voting for the grant when they have strong ties to N.C. State University, which stands to benefit from the NBAF being at Butner.

Butner is one of five sites in contention for the multimillion-dollar NBAF to replace an aging, outdated lab at Plum Island, which is located at the tip of New York’s Long Island.

Plum Island remains on the list as an alternative site for the NBAF, with a seventh option being not to build the NBAF at all.