Bio-defense in Kansas
- Shortlist of possible sites to come in July (06-30-07)
- Questions, answers about Kansas' quest for lab (07-12-07)
- Federalleader tours proposed biosecurity sites (05-30-07)
- Statesvie for deadly disease research lab (05-08-07)
- Sen.Roberts to lead bioscience team (05-02-07)
- Kansasimpresses bioscience evaluators (04-22-07)
U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility
Manhattan, where Kansas State University is already a leader in biosecurity research, is a finalist to host the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's $451 million biodefense laboratory.
State leaders dubbed Wednesday a "big day for Kansas" with the announcement that Manhattan was one of five sites in the country still in the running for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Leavenworth was cut from the list of candidate cities where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to replace an aging laboratory in New York that combats contagious human and animal diseases and threats to the country's food supply.
For more than 18 months, Kansas officials have been wooing Homeland Security for the facility that could bring 300 federal jobs and $3.5 billion in economic impact over the next 20 years. Until Wednesday, there were 18 potential sites in 11 states up for consideration.
The other sites still in the running are San Antonio; Madison County, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; and Granville County, N.C.
"It's a wonderful, wonderful event. There is a lot of work in front of us, but it shows we can play on the national stage," said Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
The news made U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., downright giddy.
"It's been a long time since Kansas has been in the final five - but we're very pleased to be there," Roberts said.
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he looked forward to working with Homeland Security to have Manhattan prevail in the final round.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was in Philadelphia on Wednesday, praised the Leavenworth and Manhattan communities for pulling together "to demonstrate the best of what Kansas has to offer."
Kansas Speaker of the House Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said house lawmakers would continue to work to bring the facility to Kansas.
Officials said that it was Manhattan's merits - not politics - that got the city to the top of the list.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., said Manhattan is an attractive site because of its proximity to Fort Riley and ties to K-State, which operates the Biosecurity Research Institute.
"(The institute) is already up and running. And, it was very clear they could begin to use that facility without any complications," Boyda said.
Kansas officials highlighted Manhattan's research strength throughout the process, Thornton said.
"I think they wanted an academic environment to a certain extent and they liked the fact they could build upon the existing infrastructure," he said.
Homeland Security reviewed the site's research capabilities, overall community acceptance, potential work force, factors involved in acquiring land, and constructing and operating the facility, department spokesman Larry Orluskie said.
The consortiums each of the states formed to bring the facility to their region will be briefed on why the site did or did not make it to the next round, Orluskie said.
He wouldn't comment specifically about the Manhattan or Leavenworth sites.
The Homeland Security facility should create at least 300 lab-related jobs, plus support staff. Construction is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs over four to five years.
"We were hoping we would get the call on this, and it is nice to have that accomplished," said Dr. Ron Trewyn, vice provost for research and dean of K-State's graduate school.
Bruce Snead, former Manhattan mayor, said it would have been "miraculous" if both of the Kansas sites were picked. But, he appreciated the support the communities gave each other.
"There were some things that we had and they didn't, and vice versa," he said.
However, neighbors of the site of where the facility could go were skeptical.
"It could go both ways," Chase Blaha said. "I mean, having something like that across the street could bring a terrorist threat or whatever. But, it could be good for the economy, for the town."
Others said it's "pretty scary" that the facility would be next door.
In Leavenworth County, leaders chose to praise Manhattan's bid rather than dwell on their misfortune.
"If Manhattan is successful, all of Kansas will benefit, and we will do our best to support their site," said Laura Janas-Gasbarre, a Leavenworth city commissioner and member of the state task force formed to bring the site to Kansas.
Leavenworth Mayor Larry Dedeke said he was "a little disappointed" the Leavenworth County site wasn't selected as a finalist. "But there's going to be something down the road that's going to be good for us," he said.
J.C. Tellefson, chairman of the Leavenworth County Commission, noted the hard work put into the Leavenworth County bid and predicted the effort would pay dividends down the road.
"It was gratifying for me to see the number of people who worked on this program," Tellefson said. "It shows me that Kansas City is considering us for cutting-edge stuff and not just the traditional things we've been known for."
Leavenworth County economic development officials took a similar view.
"Clearly we are disappointed that the Leavenworth site was not selected as a finalist for NBAF," said Tony Kramer, president of the Leavenworth County Development Corp. "But what we learned about the potential for the city, county and state to cooperatively work on a project of this magnitude will have a positive effect on future economic development efforts."
Roberts said Homeland Security officials didn't say what Manhattan offered that Leavenworth didn't.
"They didn't get into the whys and wherefores of the two sites," said Roberts, who hosted a visit to both sites by Jay Cohen, a retired rear admiral who is now undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security.
"I was at both presentations ... and both were excellent presentations," Roberts said.
The next step in the selection process will be an environmental impact study, which will look at how the facility would affect transportation, the local economy and community and geological features, Thornton said.
The study will then be weighed against the findings from the four other sites. A decision should be made by October 2008, said Orluskie of Homeland Security.
Kansas should continue to answer the same question it has from the beginning, Thornton said.
"Is there strong support for this? Is the state of Kansas unified around the project? And, can we continue to tell this story that we are exceptionally strong and capable in the research area and we have a correspondingly strong industrial cluster in the animal health area?" Thornton said.
State legislation was passed that puts together local and state agencies to work on providing information for the study. And, Trewyn of K-State said it will help that the university already has experience with gaining community acceptance for the Biosecurity Research Institute.
The process involves public meetings and the gathering of public comment, Orluskie said.
Manhattan Mayor Tom Phillips said the community does have some questions.
"Clearly we are pleased with this decision, but members of the public need to know exactly what the expectations are," Phillips said. "I think the people want to make sure this facility located here doesn't pose a threat to the community."
- Lansing Current Editor John Taylor and KTKA reporter Gena Terlizzi contributed to this story.