Thursday, May 10, 2007

NBAF Fiasco Reveals Idiocy of UW Decision-Makers

According to many sources, UW Madison made a colossal blunder when it invited Homeland Security to build the proposed National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in the Town of Dunn, Wisconsin. The UW's arrogance is likely to mean the loss of an initial $451 million in development costs, 1000 construction jobs over five years, and 200 to 400 highly paid permanent jobs. According to a study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the NBAF would have brought in between $3.5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years. The report says that salaries alone would have reached up to $2.5 billion over the same period.

Though I consider this turn of events a good thing for the health and safety of the region's residents, and am pleased that the massive suffering to animals that the lab will cause will not be happening right down the road, from the perspective of the university and the local economy, the loss is very large and suggests that the university's decision-making abilities are not commensurate with the seriousness of the issues with which it is involved.

On Thursday, April 3, 2007, the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted 19-7 in support of a resolution opposing the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s bid to host the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed gigantic BSL-4 infectious disease lab, the National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).

The UW had offered Homeland Security a 40 acre site it owns in the Town of Dunn to construct its 500,000 square foot monstrosity.

The Town of Dunn is known locally and nationally for its progressive land-use ethic.

UW’s decision to name the Town of Dunn as the single location in Wisconsin suitable for the lab was pointed out by many supervisors as a major mistake. One of them commented that the Town of Dunn, with its deserved reputation as a leader in agricultural land conservation, was the absolute worse possible location in the state for such a facility, and that the university couldn’t have made a bigger mistaken than choosing the Town of Dunn as its proposed location. Even worse, from statements made by officials from the Town of Dunn, it is crystal clear that the university was told from the very beginning that the town would resist the university’s plans.

So, from the university’s perspective and all the other development-at-any-cost proponents, the UW’s all-the-eggs-in-one-unwilling-basket approach can only be seen at one of the biggest most costly mistakes ever made.

The reasons this matters go well beyond the state’s very large economic loss caused by the UW’s colossal blunder. The mistake should be cause for grave concern. In spite of being told that there was a problem with the Dunn site, the university refused to change course. Even with $6 billion at stake. This should cause one to wonder about the university’s decision-making skills generally.

The decisions of people making a mistake this big should be regarded with suspicion whenever they make claims about the wisdom of the decisions they make or will make. Unfortunately, these same individuals – those who have repeatedly acted as university spokes persons on the matter of the NBAF – also tell the public that their decisions should be trusted when it comes to ways of safeguarding the public from accidental infections from the university’s ongoing research into deadly highly virulent diseases. See When Spin Turns Deadly.

Every month, university oversight committees and officials make decisions about how many animals a researcher can kill, about how much suffering they should allow, about the safeguards needed to protect the public from possible infectious disease escapes, about providing or destroying public records requested by the public, about the level of research oversight needed. None of these cases come with a potential $6 billion loss; it is unlikely that the daily decision-making is considered as important as in the NBAF case.

Is there any reason to doubt that these day-to-day decisions are any wiser than the NBAF blunder?

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