CHAPEL HILL — UNC-Chapel Hill researchers and administrators say a major expansion of their animal holding center in western Orange County will not harm rural neighbors or the environment.
The university plans a $27 million expansion of the Research Resources Facility, known as "The Farm," off Orange Chapel Clover Garden Road in Bingham Township.
The 57-acre site has about 60 research dogs. A building under construction will add 100 dogs that are now housed near Hillsborough. The building has been designed to add 100 more when funding is found.
At the same time, the university has applied for federal stimulus money for buildings to move dogs and pigs now housed at the Frances Owen Blood Research Laboratory near University Lake in Carrboro, said Gene Bober, assistant dean for resource planning in the School of Medicine.
If the money comes through - the university could find out next month - those buildings could house up to 150 additional dogs, for a total of between 400 and 450, and up to 150 hogs.
The animals are vital to research on heart disease, blood clotting and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The latter affects one in 5,000 male births. Most patients are in wheelchairs in their teens and die in their 20s, said Joe Kornegay, a veterinarian and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine.
"This is wonderful information but really not germane," resident Tom Schopler said between presentations Monday night at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
"The issue is not whether research is necessary," he said. "The question is how is the facility going to be operated, how are animals going to be moved hither and yon, how is the wastewater going to be handled?"
The university's speakers said the kennels are being built so residents won't hear barking. The pigs will remain indoors.
A wastewater treatment system will disinfect the animal waste, store the treated effluent in holding ponds and spray it in woods on the property, civil engineer John Phillips said. The spray heads will be low to the ground, and the water pressure will be low, forming large droplets that should not drift off the site, he said.
Residents said they worry that water needed for the expansion could drain their wells. They also asked about an incinerator on the site they said emits toxins. The incinerator is rarely used but "probably getting close to its lifespan," said Mary Beth Koza, UNC-CH's director of environment, health and safety.
"People are reassured about certain things," resident Laura Streitfeld said Tuesday. But she said the meeting was the first time she had heard specific numbers of animals and other details.
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