Lingle holds biosafety lab funds


POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The University of Hawaii's plans for a $47.5 million Pacific Regional Biosafety Laboratory are in jeopardy after the state failed to release its share of money for the project.

The lab was to be built with $32.5 million in federal funds and $15 million in state funds, and located next to the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaako.

But, citing the budget deficit, the Lingle administration did not release the $15 million - $12.5 million in general funds and $2.5 million in bonds, said James Gaines, UH vice president for research.

In a briefing recently for the Senate Higher Education and Health committees, Gaines said Hawaii is the last state to build a regional lab out of 13 selected for a National Institutes of Health network.

The federally funded biosafety level-3 labs were mandated for research and early-warning detection of lethal infectious diseases after Sept. 11, 2001. They can handle “;indigenous or exotic agents which may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases,”; under strict U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

Hawaii's lab would be the only one west of Fort Collins, Colo., Gaines said.

The NIH awarded $25 million to Hawaii to design and build the lab in 2005, and the state matched it with $12.5 million. The project stalled because of increased costs, and UH asked the NIH for supplemental funding.

The NIH provided an additional $7.5 million in 2007, and the state matched it last year with $2.5 million, bringing the total to $47.5 million for the project.

After UH's request for release of the $15 million was turned down, the university was given the option to include the $12.5 million in its capital improvements budget for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, Gaines said.

However, he said UH's overall capital improvements allocation in the executive budget totals $150 million for the biennium, “;well below our $350 million CIP request for health and safety and capital renewal and deferred maintenance, and far below our overall $600 million-plus request.”;

Gaines said UH is building the laboratory “;for public health reasons,”; and “;the right thing to do is put it in the state budget.”; The NIH needs to see a positive signal quickly that the state will support the project, or Hawaii could lose the federal money, he said.

Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, South and West Maui) suggested that UH President David McClain ask the administration in writing for the $2.5 million in CIP funds. “;One of the things the governor said was she was not going to cut things that leveraged federal funds,”; Baker noted.

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda (D, Kaneohe-Kaneohe MCAB-Kailua-Enchanted Lake) and Health Chairman David Ige (D, Pacific Palisades-Pearl City-Waimalu-Upper Aiea-Aiea Heights) said they would follow up with the Ways and Means Committee and ask the governor to consider the university's request.

Gaines said UH believes the level-3 laboratory “;is a vitally important project for the UH and state that will pay significant economic dividends during our protracted recession, and serve as a crucial research and public health asset for decades to come.”;