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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Top state court to rule on BU biolab
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
The state Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether construction of a high-security research laboratory in the South End should continue, the latest twist in the ongoing fight to block the Boston University lab.
In an action made public today, the state's highest court said it would directly hear the controversial case, bypassing an appeals court that had been scheduled to consider the matter. The SJC set a hearing for September, speeding up the legal process.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants in August ordered further environmental review of the $178 million project but did not halt construction.
BU appealed Gants's ruling, an appeal that was scheduled to be heard next month. But yesterday, the SJC, without explanation, issued a notice that it was taking the case.
"Generally, that means that it views the case as something that either has an important legal issue or is of general public significance," said Douglas Wilkins, the Anderson & Kreiger attorney who is representing the residents.
It is not unusual for the SJC to hear a case directly, and Wilkins said today that its action should not be interpreted as favoring one side or the other.
BU spokeswoman Ellen Berlin said the university welcomed the court's action.
"We are pleased that this important project is receiving this important scrutiny from the Supreme Judicial Court," Berlin said.
The facility, known as a Biosafety Level-4 lab, has provoked controversy since the moment it was proposed in January 2003, with a fervent contingent of scientists, environmentalists, and community activists protesting at every turn.
After their objections failed to stop the project at the city or state level, opponents turned to the courts.
Foes of the lab hailed the decision by the high court to resolve the case.
"Finally, the residents are going to be heard," said Klare Allen, one of the residents suing to stop construction.
Earlier this week, concerns about lab safety were fanned when fire crews descended on BU after smoke wafted through a lab.