Kansas will make big push for national biodefense lab

Leavenworth County is a leading contender

? Kansas is putting forward a full-court press to land the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, whether it be in Leavenworth County or Manhattan.

Early next month, state officials are expected to introduce a team of Kansas political heavyweights that likely will include former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and former Gov. John Carlin to coordinate Kansas’ effort to secure the multimillion-dollar facility in the state, said Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

Leavenworth County Commissioner Clyde Graeber said that former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole was also set to join the team, but Thornton said that assertion was incorrect.

The news comes about a week after the governor talked about the facility in her annual State of the State address and a U.S. senator arranged for a group of federal officials to come to Kansas to learn about the state’s bioagriculture industry.

Five months ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said 18 sites in 11 states – including the Leavenworth County site at 155th Street and Coffin Road, immediately west of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth – had made the first cut in the competition to land the facility. It would employ about 250 scientists in a 500,000-square-foot, $451 million facility that includes a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, the highest level of biosafety.

The U.S. Homeland Security, Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments would jointly operate the lab. Its mission would include modernizing the nation’s efforts to combat foreign animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease in cattle, and animal diseases that can infect humans, such as bird flu, anthrax and mad cow disease. The lab also would work to develop drugs, vaccines and other countermeasures against such diseases.

Landing the facility in Kansas already has received the support of federal, state and local officials. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda are all on board the effort.

On Jan. 10, Sebelius mentioned the facility in her State of the State address to the Kansas Legislature.

“This would have a huge economic impact, but it will take a cooperative effort on the scale of the one that kept our military bases here to achieve that goal. I will soon appoint a task force to work with the Bioscience Authority to bring this proposed federal laboratory to Kansas,” she said.

Roberts’ office last week brought a delegation from the USDA to Manhattan to tour the new Biosecurity Research Institute in Manhattan to showcase Kansas’ leadership and expertise in biosecurity research.

“Competition across the country for this facility is intense,” Roberts said. “However, Kansas is well positioned and fits the Department of Homeland Security criteria. In particular, we are fortunate to have world-renowned expertise in the animal health arena at Kansas State University and through the numerous animal health companies located in the Kansas City area. Locating this new facility in America’s heartland seems like a natural fit to me.”

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Roberts said, “Few areas in the country can compete with the proposed sites in Kansas near Leavenworth and Manhattan.”

The Leavenworth County Commission has tossed its support behind the Leavenworth County site, as has the Leavenworth City Commission. Last week, the board of directors of Leavenworth County Development Corp., a private-public economic development group, voted to give $5,000 to Leavenworth to help with environmental and engineering studies of the proposed Leavenworth County site.

Bill Petrie, past president of LCDC, reiterated to the board the potential economic benefits of Leavenworth County becoming the facility’s home.

“We’ve got a lot at stake here. : The spin off that could come from this would be tremendous. This thing only comes along once in a lifetime, so I think as a county and as cities, we need to put our best foot forward to make sure we’re unified,” he said.