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Science / Medicine : 8 Finalists in Super Collider Race Grab for Political Strings

January 04, 1988|MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Arizona offers sunshine and steel plants.

North Carolina promises super-computers and scholars.

New York boasts of cheap electricity and political muscle.

All eight finalists still competing for the $4.4-billion superconducting super collider offer better schools, better roads and money--lots of money--as the process for siting the huge atom-smasher moves into its second phase.

From the day it was made public, the siting process was seen by laymen and lawmakers alike as being divided into two distinct processes--the technical and the political.

The eight-state "Best Qualified List" released last week by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering finished the technical process. Now the two-year process moves into the political realm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

'You'll . . . See Some Bargaining'

Even as Congress conducted its first set of hearings on the super collider last April, an official from what has become one of the eight finalist states matter-of-factly predicted: "Once you get to the short list, you'll start to see some bargaining."

That bargaining might be seen in the political power that can be exercised by large, influential state such as New York, Texas and Illinois. It will also be expected in regional coalitions, such as the efforts of North Carolina to woo support in the South and of Colorado and Arizona in seeking help in the West.

Bottom-line bargaining with offers of subsidies also is expected as states, aware of federal budget deficits and spending cuts, will offer to share costs of construction and operation of the massive science project in ways that go far beyond the minimum federal requirement of 16,000 acres of free land and 53 miles of subsurface tunnel easements.

Several states, including Colorado and Tennessee, have offered to expand or improve physics programs in their state university systems. Others, such as Texas and Michigan, promised cheap electricity to operate the 10,000 superconducting magnets at the heart of the proposed collider.

All have stressed their advantages in one of the more obscure competitive categories, living conditions for both scientists and their families.

Final Decision Is Herrington's

Technically, the Energy Department says none of these factors will play a part in the selection process. Indeed, a recent federal law forbids it.

But none of the states still in the running are willing to withdraw any part of their offers. They believe that as the Department of Energy sets out to choose the winning site, it will be aware of federal budget constraints and is likely to consider cost-sharing offers, even if only informally.

Officially, Department of Energy documents say the eight recommended sites will be "reviewed" by a standing committee within the department called the Energy System Acquisition Advisory Board. In addition to bid papers submitted last fall--the papers used in choosing the eight finalists--this board also will look at "detailed analyses and environmental information."

However, Energy Department guidelines make clear that Energy Secretary John S. Herrington has the ultimate responsibility for choosing the "preferred site"--the winner, pending the completion of an environmental impact statement. His decision must be based on, but not necessarily bound by, the findings of his advisory panel.

Herrington is scheduled to name the preferred site in July. The environmental review is scheduled to be completed in January, 1988, shortly before President Reagan's term ends.

Little Hope for Reconsideration

Although much jockeying has been done by states wanting to land the scientific plum, Congress has yet to allocate any money for actual construction. The House authorized $25 million for design work in the new budget but failed to add on $10 million sought for the manufacture of the first of the super collider's 10,000 superconducting magnets. The next budget request will be for $348 million, but analysts are already asking that the allocation be reduced to $100 million.

Meanwhile, the 17 states--including California--that failed to make first cut in the site-selection process can try to sidestep the apolitical technical evaluation by petitioning the Energy Department to reconsider their bids.

But people familiar with both the department and the collider project hold out little hope for that tactic.

"From what I can tell, the academies did a journeyman's job--professional and thorough," said Alvin W. Trivelpiece, executive officer of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science and former director of the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Research. "The likelihood of an additional state being added is very, very slim."

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