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Archive for Friday, February 16, 2007

Biodefense proposals face deadline today

February 16, 2007

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States, including Kansas, in the running for a new $450 million biodefense research facility have until today to submit another round of information to the federal government.

"It's simply another milestone in the whole process of selecting the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility," said Christopher Kelly, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Besides Manhattan and Leavenworth, 16 sites in 10 other states also are being considered.

At stake is a federal facility that will focus on developing vaccines and researching diseases that affect plants, animals and humans. It will replace a center in Plum Island, N.Y.

Kansas leaders have said the facility will have a $3.5 billion economic impact over 20 years and employ about 300 scientists.

Kelly said all consortiums will submit similar information during this round of applications.

He said all of the proposed facilities have shown public support from their communities and local and state governments. They also have the ability to support the work force of a high-security laboratory and have the infrastructure for transportation, such as rail, bus and airport lines.

Beginning in March, teams will review all 18 sites before narrowing the field to an unknown number in June. Then the federal government will research environmental impact statements at the final sites before announcing the winner in October 2008, Kelly said.

City staff members in Leavenworth and Manhattan said Thursday they had forwarded information related to the sites and their communities, such as city zoning and infrastructure plans, to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which is heading the effort and facilitating the proposals for each site.

Local governments in the Leavenworth and Manhattan areas each have offered a $5 million incentive for assisting the federal government with locating the facility in their area. Leavenworth and Manhattan leaders also have exchanged letters supporting each other's efforts.

"Our city has expressed support for the project generally in Kansas," said Diane Stoddard, Manhattan deputy city manager. "Obviously we have more direct benefit if it is sited here, but Kansas State University would be involved in both sites."

Seth Bundy, a spokesman for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, referred specific questions about the state's proposals to the bioscience authority, whose president and CEO, Tom Thornton, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Bundy did say Sebelius' task force on the effort - headed by Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman - was scheduled to meet later this month.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts gave a rare speech to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature on Feb. 5 about trying to land the facility.

"As I said to the Legislature, the merits are on our side," Roberts said in a statement Thursday.

The Legislature also has swiftly passed two bills that Sebelius signed into law this week. One allows the Kansas Board of Regents to transfer 60 acres of land to the federal government if it decides to build it in Manhattan and another to establish an interagency group to help Homeland Security conduct an environmental impact study of any site in Kansas.

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