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Port to back underground science lab

Associated Press

WENATCHEE – The Port of Chelan County has decided to support a proposed underground science laboratory near Leavenworth, according to a new draft resolution.

The approval hinges on whether scientists address community concerns about the lab.

Mark Urdahl, executive director of the port district, said the draft resolution amounts to a “conditional endorsement” of the lab. The port’s three elected commissioners won’t approve a final version until the public has a chance to comment, Urdahl said.

“It’s a starting point for discussion,” he said.

In 2003, a group of scientists including University of Washington physicist Wick Haxton considered sites for a $300 million underground national science laboratory. The scientists’ top choice was Mount Cashmere, a mountain in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The lab would conduct research in physics, astrophysics, earth science and geomicrobiology, studying particles from the sun, the formation of minerals and hydrology inside the Earth and microbial life deep underground.

An abandoned gold mine in South Dakota has been the National Science Foundation’s preferred site, but flooding in the mine slowed efforts to move forward. Last year, the foundation announced plans to reopen the application process for the laboratory.

The group leading the effort to build the lab at Mount Cashmere, nine miles west of Leavenworth, will include the port’s position when it seeks funding for the project from the National Science Foundation, Urdahl said.

The draft says the port “encourages and supports” efforts to obtain money for the project. But it also lists several concerns – raised by a port-appointed citizens’ advisory committee in a report last month – that must be addressed.

Those concerns included plans to address any potential threats to the environment, local economy and the community’s “sense of place.”

Cob Rice, president of the Icicle Valley Protection Alliance, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the port’s position.

“I don’t think they’re listening to the people,” he said, adding he has little faith that community concerns will be addressed.

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