UND Plans High-Security Research Lab

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - The University of North Dakota is looking for help from the state and the city to come up with matching money for a proposed high-security research lab.

Dr. H. David Wilson, the dean of the UND medical school, is hoping legislators will approve about $7 million, and that the city of Grand Forks can up with about $2 million.

Wilson and UND President Charles Kupchella were in Bismarck this week to talk about the request.

"We see it as a long-term investment, not only for Grand Forks but for the state of North Dakota," Wilson said.

UND has applied for a federal grant for up to $25 million to bring the high-security lab to the school's Technology Park west of Interstate 29.

Wilson said the state and city funding must be an outright grant and not a loan, for the National Institutes of Health to consider UND for the project.

"If we don't have the money, the feds will say that we'll have to withdraw our application," Wilson said. "If it isn't a grant, all bets are off."

Even with local matching grants, the National Institutes of Health still must choose UND from the applicants for about a half-dozen new "biocontainment" labs.

About 30 people attended a second neighborhood meeting Thursday night about the proposed lab. Residents living in the area worry it might carry health risks and drive down property values.

The Level 3 lab would research infectious diseases and such viruses and bacteria as West Nile, plague and botulism.

Its Level 3 rating means it would be one notch below facilities that deal with the deadliest human poisons. Officials say construction would not start for about two years.

Matt Nilles, a UND researcher, said the lab would have special ventilation and filtration systems and backup power. He said trains that carry chemicals near the neighborhoods every day pose more risk.

"We are very cognizant of safety and we're following all of the regulations," he said.

The lab would support as many as 50 higher-paying research job with the potential to create spin-off businesses, its supporters say.