Feds to Weigh Terrorism Threat to Frederick Biodefense Center

FREDERICK, Md. -- The federal Department of Homeland Security plans to study whether its proposed biodefense center at Fort Detrick would make Frederick a more appealing terrorist target, an agency spokesman said Monday.

The agency would conduct the "vulnerability assessment" if it decides to build the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center on the Army installation, spokesman Donald Tighe said.

The $128 million project currently is undergoing an environmental review, including a public-comment meeting Tuesday night in Frederick.

Tighe said the vulnerability assessment wouldn't be made public but its conclusions would be shared with local, state and federal authorities. He said security plans must be closely guarded "because you wouldn't want your vulnerabilities known to those who might wish you ill."

Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty, whose administration warned in July of the project's "potentially serious" impact on public safety, said federal funds should pay for any increased security the city must provide.

"Since this is an expansion of homeland security, we think that's a good place for the funding of those things to come out of -- out of that pot of money rather than out of local property taxes," she said.

Workers at the center, tentatively slated for groundbreaking in June 2006, would study the nation's vulnerability to biological threats, guide the development of countermeasures and analyze evidence from biological attacks.

It is among four projects comprising the proposed National Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick. The others are a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases laboratory, a Department of Agriculture lab and a new laboratory complex for the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases, already located at Fort Detrick.

Fort Detrick's location inside the boundaries of the city of 56,000 has made some neighbors particularly sensitive about proposed biodefense campus.

Paul Gordon, a former mayor who lives one-third of a mile from Fort Detrick, said the promise of a vulnerability assessment hasn't calmed his fears.

He noted that when the president is at nearby Camp David, the security perimeter around the mountain retreat is expanded. But Fort Detrick is surrounded by houses, so "there's no perimeter that they can expand unless they evacuate the houses," Gordon said. "That's why they ought to build it in a less-populated area."