UC Regents approved the construction of a six-story molecular foundry in Strawberry Canyon last month without an environmental impact report (EIR), rankling some city residents and at least one City Councilmember worried about environmental impacts.
The 94,000-square-foot project will be built in the southwest corner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) property at an estimated cost of $85 million. Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2004 and be completed in February 2006. The lab will manage the foundry, which will be devoted to nanoscience research.
LBNL is holding a public meeting Thursday night at the Haas Clubhouse to discuss activities related to nanoscience and the proposed foundry.
Nanoscience is touted as an up-and-coming technology that will revolutionize manufacturing. It is the manipulation of organic and inorganic materials at the molecular level, and is expected to have revolutionary applications in a variety of fields including robotics, structural engineering, computer technology and weapons development.
The foundry will be one of five nanoscience research centers being built across the country. Each will focus on a different area of nanoscience research and all are being constructed next to major laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
“This technology has untold promise in a variety of areas and we want to be part of it,” said LBNL Communications Director Ron Kolb. “The molecular foundry will be the centerpiece of the lab for the next decade or so.”
At least one City Councilmember and a group of Berkeley residents are concerned the project will harm Strawberry Canyon’s environmental balance.
“I hate to see a beautiful canyon destroyed by more development,” City Councilmember Dona Spring said. “A six-story building with several hundred employees a day driving in and out on a single road that is in a high fire risk area seems reckless.”
The Citizens to Minimize Toxic Waste, a local organization, has also raised concerns that the nanoscience research conducted at the lab will be used for weapons development.
Kolb said the lab does not have any Department of Defense contracts and doesn’t intend to.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being an unclassified laboratory. Everything we’re working on will be used for the goodness of life, not weapons.”
Spring said she was disappointed that City Council did not request LBNL conduct an EIR for the foundry.
LBNL did complete an environmental study known as a Negative Declaration, which addressed traffic and safety issues. However, an EIR is a more rigorous analysis that would also have included more thorough traffic studies, environmental impacts and alternatives to the project’s size and location.
On Jan. 14, City Council voted against a Spring-sponsored recommendation calling for an EIR by a vote of 6-1-1. Spring was the only yes vote. Councilmember Kriss Worthington abstained and Councilmember Margaret Breland was absent.
Councilmember Linda Maio and Gordon Wozniack are former employees of LBNL.
“We required an EIR just to retrofit the Civic Center and one to landscape Civic Center Park, why would we ask the lab to do one on a new six-story building proposed for an environmentally sensitive area?” Spring said. “It’s the only responsible thing the decision makers could have done in my opinion.”
Mayor Tom Bates said the council considered requesting an EIR shortly after he took office. He said he was concerned about damaging the city’s relationship with the laboratory.
“It was sort of a done deal when I came into office,” he said. “Terrible relations existed between the lab and the city and at that point I thought it was better to be an advocate for a better working relationship.”
Bates said he has been meeting with LBNL Director Charles Shank, and he hopes the city will be allowed greater participation in the lab’s development process in the future.
The public discussion on the foundry will be held in the Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area at the Haas Clubhouse on Centennial Road at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 8.