Source: By Patrick Fox – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An Athens citizens group says it is proud to have helped stop a bid by the state to land a $450 million laboratory to study biological threats for the federal government.

“We will accept the blame, but we can’t take the credit,” said Grady Thrasher, who with wife Kathy Prescott directs For Athens Quality-of-Life, the vocal group that mounted a campaign to keep the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility out of Georgia.

In a statement issued Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue said “a small activist minority of the local community has effectively taken away a great opportunity for the Athens area.”

The federal Department of Homeland Security released the final environmental impact statement for the facility Friday, recommending the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, Kan., for the state-of-the-art, high-security facility. The lab will study foreign animal and zoonotic diseases (those transferable from animal to human) that can affect livestock.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the governor, repeated Perdue’s sentiments Saturday.

“The governor wanted to let people know our proposal was strong,” Brantley said. “There was nothing in it that didn’t match up or didn’t put us in consideration. But at the end of the day, they wanted it to be somewhere where it would be almost universally welcomed.”

Thrasher called the governor’s statement misleading.

“One of the reasons Athens was turned down,” he said, “is because the state failed to offer the kind of incentives that Kansas did.”

The Homeland Security Department’s choice also beat out competition from Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

A draft of Homeland Security’s “Preferred Alternative Selection Memorandum,” obtained by The Associated Press earlier this week, stated the Kansas site was chosen based on its proximity to existing biohazard research, strong community acceptance and a generous package of incentives offered by the state. Those incentives, matched by Texas and Mississippi interests, totaled $100 million. Georgia offered $25 million in incentives.

Thrasher and Prescott said that while the governor’s statement blamed a “small activist minority,” their group represented the sentiment of a large portion of the Athens area community, probably a good majority. While political and University of Georgia leaders as well as financially interested backers spoke out for the facility, they said, few if any ordinary citizens did. However, hundreds wrote letters of objection to DHS, and copies are with the final environmental impact statement published Friday.

“We’re happy and proud [the facility] is not coming here,” Thrasher said. “And we’re glad we had some effect on the decision, but I don’t think the governor can avoid his failure from a standpoint of those who were in favor.”

Prescott agreed.

“I don’t think [the governor] wants people to believe that one of the reasons that Georgia lost was because he didn’t pony up enough money.”

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