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Super Collider Interests Bump in Capital

November 18, 1987|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Walt Davey, who farms 10,000 acres near Dixon, Calif., and wears a red-pepper emblem on his lapel--"When you think of V-8 juice, think of us"--may be one of the more unusual lobbyists plying the halls of Washington these days on behalf of high-energy physics. But in Davey's view, farming has at least one point in common with smashing atoms.

"If you don't stay out on the cutting edge of technology," Davey says, "you're gone tomorrow."

With this in mind, Davey has joined about 40 other community leaders from rural California in Washington this week to lobby Congress in support of California's bid for the government's proposed $6-billion atom smasher, known as the superconducting super collider.

Although the 53-mile, race track-shaped tunnel housing the super collider would burrow under part of his land if the government chooses one of California's two proposed sites, Davey said he is confident that it would have no adverse effect on his farming business.

"We don't see this as affecting our operations whatsoever," Davey said, adding that most, though not all, of his farming neighbors agreed.

Twenty-five states from Washington to Mississippi are jostling for the project, a research facility the Reagan Administration says will ensure American primacy in high-energy physics into the 21st Century. It is also one of the biggest federal construction plums in years, one that promises to pump a steady $250 million a year into the local economy that wins the prize.

Even as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering are winnowing out the prime candidates, however, pressures to cut the federal deficit have raised doubts about funding for the project. Meanwhile, a small but vocal opposition in California, one of the prime contenders, is casting aspersions on the two sites the state has proposed--one near Davis in Yolo and Solano counties and the other near Stockton.

The project, and its promise of money, jobs and prestige, has won broad support from state officials, the University of California, the California congressional delegation and local officials who see it as a magnet for high-technology development and a boon for education.

On the other hand, a loose network of local environmentalists and farmers are fighting to plant the super collider in someone else's backyard. They worry that the 16,000-acre facility will remove prime agricultural land from production, lower local water tables, accelerate urbanization and run the risk of earthquake damage.

The infighting bubbled into Washington this week. While Walt Davey and his friends were lobbying in Washington Tuesday under the banner of a group with the magnanimous name of Supercollider for America, three small opposition groups fired back with a political advertisement in the Washington Post proclaiming that "Californians can't afford and don't want the Superconducting Supercollider."

The three groups--California Women for Agriculture, the Coalition Against the Super Collider Site and the Super Collider Action Committee--said they had gathered 20,000 signatures on petitions from residents near the two sites, urging the government to let someone else build it.

Supercollider for America snapped back with a suggestion that the petitions included the names of children and other unqualified signatories, an accusation the opponents hotly denied.

"They've also said we've gone to graveyards for names," Alberta Lewallen, of the Coalition Against the Super Collider Site, said in a telephone conversation from her home in Linden, Calif. "This is what we're up against."

"The proponents have really belittled the problems," said Lewallen, whose 10,000-acre family farm overlaps the Stockton site. She said she is convinced that the federal government would not, as proponents contend, make the bulk of her land and other prime acreage acquired for the site available for cultivation through lease-back arrangements.

Besides, Lewallen added, the government has indicated that walnut production could not continue near the super collider because the machines that shake the nuts out of the trees might misalign the magnets in the tunnel below that accelerate the machine's high-energy particle beams.

Davey's lack of concern for his farmland, she noted, "probably means he wants to sell and get out," a suggestion Davey denied.

Sour grapes, said spokesmen for Supercollider for America, whose members crowded into a room in the Longworth House Office Building Tuesday for a news conference with half a dozen California congressmen, several of whom voiced irritation at the opponents.

Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento) dismissed their objections as "desperation tactics" while Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad) complained that with California among the front-runners, "we don't need any detractors . . . in California."

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