A meeting sponsored by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) was nearly derailed before it began Thursday night when a group of vocal citizens protested the meeting’s format, which they called a “dog and pony show.”
The meeting, which was billed as “A Conversation about Lab Activities,” was scheduled at the request of City Council to inform the public about LBNL’s plans to construct a six-story, 94,000-square-foot molecular foundry in Strawberry Canyon.
The construction of the foundry is estimated at $85 million, which will be funded by the Department of Energy. The foundry will be devoted to the study of nanoscience, the manipulation of materials at the molecular level.
The UC Regents approved the molecular foundry in March, and opponents contend they did so with insufficient public process and without an environmental impact report (EIR), which would have required a thorough examination of the plan and more lab response to community concerns.
Prior to the meeting, which was held in the Haas Clubhouse, about 25 opponents of the foundry held a press conference to call attention to what they described as LBNL’s unwillingness to include the public during the approval process. They also raised concerns about consequences of nanotechnology research.
Attending the press conference were members of the Community Environmental Advisory Group, the Peace and Justice Commission, the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste and City Councilmember Dona Spring.
Lab officials argued that the environmental review that they did complete, known as a mitigated negative declaration, was sufficient and that the public had ample opportunity to comment on the foundry project prior to its approval.
To supplement the meeting, which began at 7:30 p.m., a series of information booths were set up to provide information about various lab projects such as energy efficiency research, canyon vegetation management and science education programs. The meeting’s focus, however, was the construction of the foundry and the nanoscience research that will be carried out there.
The evening began with the presentation of science achievement awards to three Berkeley High School students by Mayor Tom Bates and LBNL Director Charles Shank. Then, as discussion got under way, the proceedings were abruptly stopped by foundry opponents who demanded an opportunity to ask lab officials about the project. After several minutes of confrontation, the lab’s Community Relations Director Terry Powell assured the group they would have the chance to speak later during a question and answer period.
During the question and answer period, foundry opponent Janice Thomas expressed her concerns about lack of public process and the lab’s apparent reluctance to perform an ERI.
Her charges were challenged by LBNL attorney Nancy Ware.
“We made the negative declaration available on the Web and at public libraries and we extended the public comment period to 58 days when an EIR only requires 40,” Ware said. “An EIR would have been absurd, especially when we have an environmental document that says we don’t need one.”
Several people challenged Ware on the need for an EIR, saying the six-story foundry will have a huge impact on Strawberry Canyon, which is a habitat for the endangered Alameda Whip Snake and a watershed to city creeks.
“So, sue us,” Ware said.