Despite opposition, Rocky Hill public health lab gets funding

The State Bond Comission today approved funding for a new public health laboratory in Rocky Hill–an action opposed by neighbors and area legislators.

“It should be in a more isolated location,” said Sen. Paul R. Doyle, D-Wethersfield. “If it’s not OK for New Britain”–one of a dozen other sites considered– “then why is it OK for Rocky Hill?”

Doyle and Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, are upset the lab that tests for West Nile virus, rabies, influenza and anthrax–now located in Hartford just a few blocks from the State Capitol will be moving into their district. The $69.4 million facility will be on a 22-acre site near a residential area and the state Veterans’ Home and Hospital.

“You are telling me it’s going to cost more than $70 million to get the current facility up to speed? I don’t believe that,” Guerrera said.

The Department of Public Health and the Office of Policy and Management maintains that no new substances will be tested at the new Rocky Hill laboratory that aren’t already tested at the current 45-year old laboratory.

But that isn’t enough for Guerrera and Doyle, who said there is nothing that can be said for them to approve of such substances being tested in their district.

“They should pick a different location,” Doyle said.

The two were successful at last month’s Bond Commission meeting in stalling funding for the lab, saying the community wasn’t given enough notice of the proposal and had been alarmed by an anonymous scare flier that had been distributed in the neighborhood.

Headlined “Meet your new neighbors,” the flier warns of toxic agents threatening the well-being of the community.

The flier did not include contact information and was attributed to “Construction Workers for a Safe Environment” — an unknown group to many officials and legislators.

Since then, several members of the Rocky Hill Local 40 Sheet Metal Workers International Association have acknowledged that they were responsible for distributing the fliers. They said they are concerned because only a few of the lowest bidders on the project are members of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, a trade group of union contractors.

Guerrera and Doyle said their opposition isn’t about who gets the work.

“My issues weren’t about the contractors. It’s about the location,” Guerrera said.

Following an informational hearing on the public health lab last month, the legislators sent a letter and a petition signed by 300 residents to Rell and members of the bond commission in opposition to the lab.

But on Wednesdy, the Bond Commission members decided to move forward in a 7-3 vote and release the needed funds. Voting in opposition were Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Deputy Treasurer Howard G. Rifkin.