LBNL Begins Environmental Review Of Scaled-down Helios Lab Building

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 07:32:00 PM

Changed designs for the new lab building to house the half-billion-dollar BP–funded Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) have forced Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to launch a new environmental impact review. 

EBI programs will focus on developing genetically modified organisms and plant crops to provide a new generation of transportation fuels, called biofuels by supporters and agrofuels by critics, who fear the program will led to further corporate colonization of the Third World. 

The Helios Building has been redesigned with a lower profile (from a four- and five-story original to a three- and four-story revision), an extended footprint and a reduction in overall floor space from the original 160,000 square feet to 144,000. 

The proposed location has been shifted as well, from the original rectangular site directly facing the lab’s Molecular Foundry to a more serpentine footprint extended to the southeast and facing Building 62. 

Stephan Volker, who represented Friends of Strawberry Canyon in a lawsuit that challenged both the earlier project’s EIR and the UC Board of Regents approval of the project, said Tuesday that the change of plans might be an improvement over the project he had challenged in court. 

Volker represented Save Strawberry Canyon, a nonprofit organization whose membership includes Berkeley residents Sylvia McLaughlin, Lesley Emmington, Janice Thomas, Hank Gehman and former mayor Shirley Dean. 

While LBNL officials have denied that the lawsuit forced a change in plans, Volker said, “We do believe the case forced the university to resubmit a design that addresses some of our concerns.” 

Save Strawberry Canyon withdrew the lawsuit after the plans were withdrawn, “though we reserved the right to submit a motion for recovery of litigation costs,” he said. 

Volker said his clients fear that environmental devastation in the canyon will dramatically increase as the university and the federally backed lab look for room to expand. 

A public scoping session to gather concerns to be addressed in the new EIR will be conducted Jan. 7 between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. 

The notice is available at the LBNL website at http://www.lbl.gov/Community/Helios/documents/index.html