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Newport Residents Question Developers Of Bio-Med Facility

In this 2014 file photo, Bill Kelly, left, stands with architect Joe Greene and civil engineer Debra Bell before drawings of the proposed Anc Bio facility.
Charlotte Albright
VPR File
Bill Kelly, representing AnC Bio, Joe Greene, architect, and Debra Bell, civil engineer, display drawings of a new facility proposed for Newport prior to a public hearing.

On Monday, the public got a chance to weigh in on a plan to build a four-story glass and metal tower in Newport that would house bio-medical research and development.

The developers, Bill Stenger and his business partner Ariel Quiros, say the project will create as many as 500 jobs and will not harm the environment. But some Newport residents have some concerns about its impact on public health.

The proposed research and development building for a South Korean bio-medical company called AnC Bio has already received the necessary municipal permits, but it must still get approval from the state. The company makes medical devices, like dialysis machines, and also engages in stem cell production for transplanting into damaged organs.

One step in the approval process is to meet the requirements of Act 250. It’s governed by the District 7 Natural Resources Board, which held the public hearing. There were questions about traffic congestion to and from the property. But Bill Kelly, representing the developers, said the truck traffic would be no worse than it was when the workers manufactured ski wear at a now vacant building on the site.

“Don’t want to create traffic congestion, but I do hope we have more traffic as I hope we have more kids going to schools here,” Kelly said.

Others at the sparsely attended hearing worried whether the a high-tech biomedical business will thrive in such a remote location, or whether the town would be stuck, one day, with an abandoned building. And another concern surfaced. What if the building’s tenants engage in research that could harm public health-- if, for example, a harmful virus were to escape the labs? That was Anne Chiarello’s question.

“And how is it policed so that we are ensured as the public in Newport that no employee comes out of a clean room with an infectious virus that can infect the public?” she asked.

The architect replied that the building was carefully designed to prevent such accidents, and that any bio-medical waste would be collected and disposed of in closed containers, not emitted or washed down drains.  He also promised that the glass facade would not spill unwanted light into the night sky, or ruin the scenery for lakefront dwellers nearby.

Bill Perket, a Newport resident, joined city officials in supporting new bio-medical research and manufacturing in Newport.

“These are all life-saving activities, these are going to make the environment better, it’ll save lives. In addition to that, bringing 400 plus jobs to the area, as we all know, this area needs that kind of influx,” Perket said.

The ruling by the NRB could take months, and other permits will also be required. The developers hope to start construction next April.