Galveston's Bio Lab survived Ike

NY Times:

Much of the University of Texas medical school on this island suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.

“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”

Officials at the laboratory and at the National Institutes of Health, which along with the university is helping to pay for the $174 million building, say it can withstand any storm the Atlantic hurls at it.

Built atop concrete pylons driven 120 feet into the ground, the seven-floor laboratory was designed to stand up to 140-mile-an-hour winds. Its backup generators and high-security laboratories are 30 feet above sea level.

“The entire island can wash away and this is still going to be here,” Dr. James W. LeDuc, the deputy director of the laboratory, said. “With Hurricane Ike, we had no damage. The only evidence the hurricane occurred was water that was blown under one of the doors and a puddle in the lobby.”

The project enjoyed the strong support of three influential Texas Republicans: President Bush, a former Texas governor; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; and the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, whose district includes part of Galveston County. Officials at the National Institutes of Health, however, say the decision to put the lab here was based purely on the merits. It is to open Nov. 11.

Galveston is on the Gulf of Mexico, not the Atlantic, though some of the hurricanes do originate in the Atlantic some originate in the Gulf. The building does show that engineers can design buildings to withstand hurricanes.

While three Republicans may have pushed for the bio lab to be in Galveston, it should be noted that the Island is an island of Democrats in a red state.

BTW, I know Jim Blackburn and he is a nice guy, but he has been on the environmental do nothing side for as long as I have known him. It is hard to recall him ever being for a project that involved improvement for humans as opposed to critters and bugs.

Another BTW, I drove through East Texas on my way to southern Arkansas yesterday and there was still a lot of damage from blown down trees. I also saw a few blue tarp roofs that are a residue of Ike. Someone interested in creating some lumber could find a lot to mill just along the sides of the highway. I am sure the state would appreciate the help in clearing the right of ways.


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