- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

A provision in a spending bill now before the House directs the federal government to buy for $1 the anthrax-contaminated American Media Building in Boca Raton, Fla., leaving taxpayers with a cleanup tab of as much as $20 million.
After the building, home to grocery store tabloids including the National Enquirer, Globe, Star, and Weekly World News, is decontaminated, the only option may be to demolish it, according to a General Services Administration (GSA) memo obtained by The Washington Times.
The GSA called the building "unmarketable," and said the property's value has plummeted from $4.4 million to about $900,000.
"The acquisition of this building by the GSA would result in significant costs to the federal taxpayers …," the GSA memo said. "Whoever takes over custody of the building assumes liability for the remediation of the infectious disease and could potential [sic] be named in other legal actions involving the property."
The amendment to the omnibus spending bill expected to pass the House this week is sponsored by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who called it a "public health issue we can't ignore."
Disposal sites have refused to take the contaminated waste materials and Mr. Nelson wants it cleaned by the government and the waste stored at Fort Detrick in Maryland, which accepted contaminated materials removed from the anthrax cleanup of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Having the federal government take over the building, the first target of anthrax sent through the mail after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and possibly use it for research before cleanup at the site is the appropriate way to go, Mr. Nelson said.
"The policy question is what is the federal government's responsibility when a biological attack has occurred? Our view is it is shared by a lot of people and the federal government does have a unique role to take responsibility for cleaning up biological attacks, just like they did for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center," said Dan Shapiro, Mr. Nelson's legislative director.
"We think this is quite a comparable situation," Mr. Shapiro said.
While the dollar-for-dollar cost cannot be recouped, it is Mr. Nelson's intention that if the building is demolished, the 2-acre property be sold to offset some of the cost. Mr. Nelson told the Miami Herald the building could be sold or used by the government as office space.
The GSA estimates it will cost about $10 billion to clean the property, another $9 million for oversight and more than a half million to demolish it.
One Republican House leadership aide said the legislation is tantamount to purchasing a Superfund site. "This is a total disregard and waste of taxpayer money," the aide said.
American Media Inc., owner of the 94,000-square-foot building, said it is relinquishing the property at the behest of the Boca Raton community.
"The problem was our attempt to have it cleaned in the private sector ran up against the universal answer: The disposal of any waste is something only the federal government can do and is best suited to clean up a health hazard like this," said Gerald McKelvey, spokesman for American Media Inc.
The GSA, which manages government buildings, opposes purchase because of the cleanup cost and said "we cannot find a federal need or use for this property." Prior to the contamination, the property was valued at $4.4 million by the Palm Beach County Tax Assessor's Office. The unoccupied building is now worth an estimated $900,000.
"If the federal government must acquire the property, our recommendation is that the property be turned over to the EPA who oversaw the Hart Building cleaning the only agency with experience in this field. Upon EPA's declaration of 'clean,' GSA could proceed to demolish the building, as it would probably be unmarketable," the memo said.
The building was closed Oct. 7, 2001, after National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens died from inhaling anthrax. He was one of five victims in the nation to die from anthrax attacks, which forced the closure of the Hart Senate Office Building when a letter filled with the powder was sent to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Anthrax also forced the closure of the Brentwood Road postal facility in the District and was mailed to some New York media outlets. No arrests have been made.
A former longtime editor for the National Enquirer agreed with the GSA's assessment and said the building should be demolished but paid for by the company.
"We don't need to be spending taxpayer dollars cleaning up a building that houses such verbal trash," the former editor said on the condition of anonymity.

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