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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Be careful with Biosphere2

    News emerged last week that the storied Biosphere2 may be acquired by the UA as a research and outreach facility. Though plans for the acquisition are still in the discussion stages, it would behoove the UA administration to proceed with the very utmost caution.

    The story of Biosphere2 is one of what could have been. The facility was built between 1987 and 1989 in the desert, 20 miles north of Tucson. Its construction was bankrolled by Ed Bass, an environmental activist and inheritor to an oil fortune; Biosphere2 is still owned by his Texas firm, Decisions Investment Corp.

    Biosphere2’s original goal was to examine whether people could live and work in a sealed environment, in the hopes that the knowledge could be applied to plans for similarly self-sustaining space stations. When the first team of scientists entered the facility for a three-year mission, they contended with dramatic and unexpected oxygen drops, fluctuating carbon dioxide levels, failing crops, scarce food and unintended hoards of roaches and ants. The “”biospherians,”” as these enterprising souls came to be known, saw quickly that little there went according to plan.

    This sums up Biosphere2’s operation ever since: Little goes according to plan. And it’s a good reason for the UA to be extremely cautious in any consideration of an acquisition or partnership with the property.

    Programs have fallen apart. Deals have been broken. And, of course, money has been lost.

    Columbia University entered into what was intended to be a 10-year relationship with the facility’s parent company in 1996 to operate a research and educational campus. However, the program was cut short in 2003, after Columbia had poured between $25 and $30 million into the facility.

    Most recently, Biosphere2 entered into an agreement with homebuilder Fairfield homes, which had planned to build a master-plannned community on the site – in which the Biosphere facilities themselves would not have played a role.

    But the deal fell through. And now, it seems, Biosphere2’s parent company is talking up the property and the opportunities it could provide to the UA. But when it comes down to it, the facility has functioned more as a tourist attraction than a hard research facility for a while now.

    Sure, it’s possible that the UA could turn this trend around. But is it worth it? The attentions of our scientists could be spent on efforts in a facility that isn’t already a financial liability – especially in this time of campuswide belt-tightening.

    It has been suggested that the deal with Decisions Investment Corp. could be brokered in such a way that the UA could use the facilities in a way that wouldn’t come at a cost to our institution. Were that really true, it would be a great deal. However, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that Biosphere2 may cost up to $4 million annually in maintenance and operational costs.

    Though a Biosphere2 deal may seem appealing prima facie, we expect our administrators to be particularly discerning in these talks. After all, the UA has enough funding problems of its own. It would take an extremely compelling reason to board this sinking ship.

    Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Nina Conrad, Lori Foley, Ryan Johnson, Ari Lerner, Nicole Santa Cruz and Matt Stone.

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