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Center rejects grant to promote biolab

The N.C. Biotechnology Center has refused to accept a $262,248 grant to fund an education campaign about a bio-defense lab proposed for Granville County.

In a July 29 letter, Norris Tolson, the center's chief executive, said the terms were too onerous.

The Golden LEAF Foundation, which oversees state funds from a national settlement with cigarette makers, in July set aside money for the center, which complained debate about the lab had been sullied by misinformation.

The U.S. government is considering a site near Butner for the $450 million facility, which would study large-animal diseases. Opposition has been fierce in Granville County -- one of several sites under consideration -- where residents fear the potential release of harmful pathogens.

Supporters have said such concerns are overblown. The N.C. Biotechnology Center, N.C. State University and other public and private groups have pushed for the facility, saying it would make the region a hub for top research.

The Biotechnology Center sought the Golden LEAF funds on behalf of a consortium that planned outreach through newspaper advertisements, speakers and other methods. The foundation's board approved the money after heated debate and included provisions intended to ensure no violations of its nonprofit status.

"Taken as a whole, the proposed agreement vests Golden LEAF with such involvement and decision making power over the details of the project that it ceases to be a grant supporting independent, objective work and analysis," Tolson wrote to Valeria Lee, Golden LEAF's president.

He went on to say: "Having carefully considered the provisions of the proposed agreement, we have concluded that it would not be wise or appropriate for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to proceed" in accepting the grant.

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