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Last Updated

25 Aug 2003

Source: Palm Beach Post, September 27, 2002.

Senate panel puts off bill for AMI cleanup

By Larry Lipman, Palm Beach Post Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee Thursday postponed consideration of a bill authorizing federal aid in decontaminating anthrax from the quarantined National Enquirer headquarters in Boca Raton.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., said he agreed to postpone the bill to a public hearing at the request of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

No date for the hearing has been set, but Nelson aides said they hoped it would take place before Congress adjourns in about two weeks.

Nelson introduced this proposal because he "was getting resistance" in Washington to a multimillion-dollar request for a federal takeover and cleanup of the AMI building, Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams said.

Senators had expressed concern that any bill related to the AMI building would set a precedent for how the government should respond to terrorist damage to privately owned property, a Nelson aide said.

"They have questions about how this should work, what is the federal responsibility, what agencies are involved, and where should the money come from," the aide said.

Nelson sought the delay at the request of Boca Raton officials and AMI representatives.

Nelson's first bill would authorize the federal government to purchase the building for $1, after which it would be cleaned and either sold to a private bidder or used by federal agencies for on-going chemical and biological research. No date has been set for that proposal to be considered.

The second bill, which the committee had been scheduled to consider Thursday, would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to advise AMI in the cleanup, but didn't provide for a federal bailout.

Preliminary estimates put the cleanup cost from about $7 million to more than $9 million.

The original plan had been to move the less ambitious bill through the committee, then amend it later to authorize the complete federal takeover, Nelson aides said.

Company and Boca Raton officials felt the federal takeover option would be strengthened if they publicly make the case at a hearing.

"In my view, it's the preferred approach," Abrams said. "Our view was that the weaker version did not accomplish what we were seeking."

In a letter to Nelson, Romano Romani, president of a Washington lobbying firm representing AMI, urged the delay: "I believe it is important that all members of Congress fully understand the nature of the problem, its severity and the inexorable logic of the solution you propose."

The letter noted that AMI Chief Executive David Pecker and Abrams would be willing to testify before the Senate committee.

The 68,000-square-foot building in the Arvida Park of Commerce has been closed since Oct. 7 following the inhalation anthrax death of Bob Stevens (case 5), a Sun photo editor.

Staff writer John Murawski contributed to this story.