Illinois victimized by politics in atom smasher site choice

Illinois fell victim to politics in the battle for the Superconducting Super Collider which was given to Texas.

Sen. Alan Dixon made a valid point when he charged “the Department of Energy made a decision based on politics rather than one on merit and the good of the American taxpayer.”

It is difficult to believe that the choice for the site of the collider is merely coincidental. Though competing states requested the final decision be held until after the election, the action was a nicety granted to pacify competitors. Chances are officials already had made their decision long before the election.

The opposition states had no chance when competing with the prominent Texan powers like President-elect George Bush, House Speaker Jim Wright and senators Lloyd Bentsen and Phil Gramm.

It also seems highly unlikely that the approval of a $1.1 billion bond pushed through by voters at the last minute had nothing to do with the Texas decision’s immediate approval.

Even with this funding to offset the expense of the projected $4.4 billion construction cost for the collider, Illinois still offered taxpayers more for their money’s worth.

The Texas site has been estimated at slightly more than the Batavia site in Illinois. Estimated in 1988 dollars, building and operating costs during the next 25 years are projected to total $10.8 billion in Texas, while as little as $10.4 billion in Illinois.

Further, Illinois has better available resources than Texas which also would be cost-saving assets.

Building the collider on the already existing Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory site in Batavia, Illinois offers a $3.28 billion saving in construction and operation costs, according to an independent study. Savings would come from a staff of noted experts in the field of physics and the use of Fermilab’s existing facility and equipment.

The Texas site would require construction of an entirely new facility and training for a collider operating team.

Additional training needed for any workers at the collider site would be enhanced in Illinois by the availability of prominent education facilities. Chicago alone offers 37 educational institutions while Dallas could offer only 13. Illinois also has 370 university physics faculty while Texas has 56.

The only point the Department of Energy’s Site Selection Task Force found to hold against locating the collider in Illinois was the additional costs required to finance land aquisition. Illinois scored at the top of many criteria considered in the decision.

But even though Texas Sen. Bentsen, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has pledged to guarantee that construction funds will be appropriated on time, he might have a more difficult time keeping his word than he planned.

An investigation into the legitimacy of the collider decision has been called by two senators, and legislators from the states who lost their bids for the collider site have plans for opposing any funding proposals brought to Congress.

So if legislators are serious about holding a grudge against Texas and the collider site decision, they might find satisfaction in playing a political game of their own and leaving Texas to foot the collider’s bill.