Effort and cooperation, the words typed on construction paper and pasted to a wall of New Haven Elementary School, mirrored the attitude of a group of Columbia residents who met to organize opposition to a proposed biological research lab.
Residents of the Woodlands neighborhood, located near the proposed site for the lab, held the meeting Thursday night at the school, at 3301 New Haven Road. The group wants to educate the public and organize opposition to the lab, where researchers would study pathogens that affect humans and animals. Opponents fear that the pathogens studied at the lab, which could include avian flu and foot and mouth disease, make it a potential danger to the nearby residents and a threat to livestock.
MU submitted a bid for the lab in the spring of 2006, and Mayor Darwin Hindman and members of the Boone County Commission sent letters of support. The lab would be under the control of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Columbia is on a list of 17 possible sites for the lab. Homeland Security will announce a list of three to five finalists by the end of June, but the Woodlands residents decided to have a meeting before hearing if Columbia is a finalist.
“We think we’re going to be too far behind the pack if we wait to hear if we are a finalist,” said Pete Bakutes, a resident of the neighborhood.
The meeting focused on how the group of concerned citizens could educate the public.
“People have got to hear about this from us,” Bakutes said. “There is a danger this could come to Columbia just because of inertia.”
Residents organized a petition before the meeting. Karen Onofrio said she planned on mailing the petition to the Department of Homeland Security.
Packets of information describing reasons to oppose the lab and how to spread the information were available at the meeting for residents to pick up and pass out to others.
“Take at least one packet and pass them out to 10 friends and explain what the dangers are,” Bakutes said. “Ask each of those 10 friends to make 10 photocopies and pass this out to 10 more people.”
The packets included 21 reasons to oppose the lab and ways to contact officials with letters of opposition.
The concern with education echoed with the attendees, and the residents brainstormed ways to get information to the public. Residents talked about passing out packets of information and placing ads in local newspapers. Several people suggested getting local and national media involved.
Toward the end of the meeting, members of the group placed a hat and a box on a table to collect money for the effort. No account has been set up yet, but the group planned to create an account that would be linked to the Web site nodeathlab.com so the public can donate money to the effort.
No MU or city officials were present at the meeting. Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbarah Hoppe said Wednesday she wanted to go but could not make it because of the City Council retreat.