Judge Halts Work Above UC-Berkeley

    (CN) - A federal judge ordered that a $113 million supercomputer laboratory set for construction in the hills above the University of California, Berkeley must submit environmental impact assessments before it can be built.
     U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the 126,300-square-foot Computational Research and Theory project, a proposed addition to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, would be built with substantial input and resources from the Department of Energy and therefore must adhere to the National Environmental Protection Act.
     Alsup ruled in favor of Berkeley-based Save Strawberry Canyon, which sued the Department of Energy and the university to stop the project from damaging Strawberry Canyon's watershed and its members' "recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of the area."
     The university claimed the lab was not a federal project but a state one and not bound by federal environmental laws. But Alsup said the project would not have been planned or built without promises of funding from the Department of Energy.
     The lab, meant to house a government supercomputer, will use inexpensive power provided by the Department of Energy, and its managers will be paid with federal money, the ruling states.
     While the federal government hasn't officially promised to pay for the facility, it will cover the university's financing costs through federal money provided to the Berkeley National Laboratory, according to the ruling.
     "That is, under the budget approved by the university, the federal government will ultimately pay for not only use of the facility but also for the construction - it will provide funds to repay the debt used to finance the construction," Alsup wrote.
     The laboratory would be one of the world's largest facilities of its kind. Its initial plans and budget were heavily influenced by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu while he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
     Strawberry Canyon is a popular hiking and running trail above UC-Berkeley, with an agonizingly steep pitch in the middle known as "the connector."