Plans for Bundy Hill Road avian vaccine facility under fire

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Lisbon - posted Mon., Oct. 14, 2013
Some Lisbon residents are protesting plans by Charles River Laboratories to open a facility on Bundy Hill Road at the former Royal Ballroom. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Some Lisbon residents are protesting plans by Charles River Laboratories to open a facility on Bundy Hill Road at the former Royal Ballroom. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

The proposal to open an avian vaccine production facility on Bundy Hill Road has generated concern among some local residents, who are gearing up for an Oct. 23 continued public hearing on the plan. The hearing, slated for 6:30 p.m. at Lisbon Central School, will center on a proposal by Charles River Laboratories to open a site where chicks would be raised to produce a vaccine for one of three strains of infectious bursal disease virus.

The facility would be located at the former Royal Ballroom banquet facility, which has been closed for the better part of two decades. The Lisbon Planning and Zoning Commission already partially cleared the way for the lab in August by approving a zoning change to allow a specialized agricultural building as a special-permit use in some residential areas of town. An Oct. 1 public hearing on Charles River’s application for such a special permit was continued to the Oct. 23 date.

John Bakke, Charles River’s corporate chief executive officer and vice-president for avian vaccine services, said the facility’s ultimate product would go into an infectious bursal disease virus vaccine, which is already being produced in Connecticut. The vaccine “helps keep the price of chicken low” by minimizing farmers’ losses, he said. The company has operated similar facilities, licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the region for more than 50 years, formerly under the name Spafas, he said.

But Cheryl Blanchard of Blissville Road is among a number of local residents who object to the plan. “I respect the fact that they’re doing important work,” she said of Charles River. But the company’s other facilities “are not in residential neighborhoods like Bundy Hill. This is a densely-populated neighborhood. This doesn’t belong a half-mile from my home. We have two industrial-zoned areas in Lisbon. That’s where it correctly should be.”

According to a Charles River document filed with the PZC, the facility would initially focus on raising three generations of pathogen-free birds. Afterwards, day-old chicks would be injected with live bursal disease virus, which would incubate in their bodies for several days before they are euthanized and tissues are extracted.

Poultry flocks which are unprotected by bursal disease vaccine can experience up to 50-percent mortality, according to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center website. Control of the disease on farms “is only practical through the use of vaccination,” the website says.

“We’re not creating viruses. There is nothing we do or would do at that site that would harm  people,” Bakke said. “I understand that it’s a neighborhood. That I respect. But people won’t get sick.” He said the virus only affects birds, and is already present on nearly every poultry farm.

Bird carcasses would be removed from the site by a disposal company and several chemicals would be used for disinfection. Those chemicals are another of Blanchard’s concerns. “Where is all that going? Are they spraying it?” she said. “I don’t think infected carcasses and waste should be transported through our neighborhoods. People walk their babies and dogs on Bundy Hill.” In addition, she said she fears for the waterfowl that frequent the nearby rivers and wetlands.

Plans would include pulling up much of the ballroom’s crumbling former parking lot, most of which would be unneeded, said Bakke. Exterior landscaping would feature what he called a rain garden, creating additional green space, but what Blanchard referred to as a bio-retention area to filter pollutants. She said that she was also concerned about the risk of an accident involving one of the nine to 10 trucks per week that would be going into and out of the facility, delivering feed and supplies and removing waste.

Documents filed with the PZC by Charles River state that the company’s existing facilities do not emit “noxious or offense” odors. Blanchard, however, said she visited the site of company’s Lebanon facility, and “it has an odor to it.”

“We’re embedded in many Connecticut neighborhoods today, and I think we’re a good neighbor,” said Bakke. But, he added, “if the town says they don’t want us there, that’s okay.” The company would drop the plan and pursue another site if that were the case, he said.

For her part, Blanchard said if the lab moves in, she plans to move out, although she has happily lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. “The number-one priority of the town plan is to preserve the character and enhance the quality of life for residents,” she said. “Is this an asset to the neighborhood?”

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