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Military Wants Renovation of Dugway Lab

Military Wants Renovation of Dugway Lab

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Army officials want to renovate an old laboratory at the Dugway Proving Ground to increase defense testing of biological agents.

Utah environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, oppose the proposal.

Army official propose renovating the 32,000-square-foot Baker Laboratory, which was built in 1952 to develop chemical weapons. It was decommissioned in the 1990s and replaced by a new facility.

Under the proposal, renovation would occur in phases. The total cost of the project is unknown, Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson said.

An environmental assessment of the proposal published last month states that controls would be in place "to prevent the release of biological materials to the atmosphere."

But in a response, environmental groups objected to the proposal and said Dugway officials have shown a lack of openness about the health, safety and environmental issues related to use of the old lab.

Utah officials have limited oversight at Dugway, which makes it difficult to monitor work that affects the health and safety of staff, Citizens Education Projector Director Stephen Erickson said. Plans for the lab expansion have a "general lack of specificity and details," he said in a concern letter sent to the Army.

"So, someone needs to pay attention to it," Erickson said Friday. "I guess it has fallen on us. ... We will always argue for greater transparency."

In its response to Erickson's letter, the Army said the assessment report presents a "concept plan, not a detailed final plan."

The Army tries to strike a balance between public disclosure requirements and releasing too much information, Nicholson said.

"We have to protect our customers and the United States," she said.

Those customers include tenants that help Dugway fulfill its mission of testing chemical and biological defense systems.

Information from: Deseret Morning News (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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