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Ga. 316 corridor left out of agro-defense facility proposal

WINDER - Two Georgia sites will be considered for a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. Neither is on Ga. Highway 316.

Members of the Bioscience Joint Development Authority - a group trying to lure bioscience companies to the University Parkway - had high hopes that the federal defense facility would land along the road. Instead, both proposed sites are in Athens, on the campus of the University of Georgia.

Barrow County Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said he was "disappointed" that the project would not be in the county but was holding out hope that if Georgia made the short list, the state would have the opportunity to give the government even more options.

"I'm disappointed they didn't at least make mention of sites on the University Parkway," he said. "In my opinion, that doesn't get away from University congestion. ... That's the way it goes."

The facility, to be operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, would create an estimated 1,000 construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs. Two 20-page packets expressing interest in the project were sent to the department, pinpointing two Athens locations.

The primary site is UGA-owned property off College Station Road adjacent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Richard B. Russell Research Center and the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory. The secondary site is on South Milledge Avenue near Whitehall Road on the southern end of campus.

Both Barrow and Oconee counties submitted possible locations for consideration to the state. Matt Forshee, economic development director for Oconee County, did not return a phone call seeking comment about the state's selections.

Garrison said he still hopes the facility will land in Georgia. If it comes to Athens, he said, there is a good chance that spin-off businesses will set their roots in Barrow County and that the airport will serve as a major draw.

"We feel like we still have a shot at it somewhere down the line," he said.

The state created a group called the Georgia Consortium for Health and Agro-Security to draft a response to a federal request for proposals. Representatives from the University of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Innovation and Technology Office, Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Medical College of Georgia, other Georgia institutions of higher education, the Georgia Research Alliance and other groups were involved in the process.

Local leaders had also written letters to the group touting their sites.