Leaders back Manhattan as home for defense lab

As the formal public-comment window closed for a potential National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, six prominent Kansans – members of the state’s congressional delegation – made their support for the project known in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Their conclusion: Kansas is the best home for the potential $450 million project.

“Kansas has demonstrated the research capacity, strong public support and necessary infrastructure to meet DHS’ requirements to fulfill and implement NBAF,” members of the delegation said in their letter, released Friday. “We urge your careful consideration of both the Kansas proposal and look forward to ensuring the success of NBAF in Kansas.”

Signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; and U.S. Reps. Nancy Boyda and Dennis Moore, D-Kan.; and U.S. Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.

Four other sites also are in the running for the project, which is commonly referred to as NBAF: San Antonio; Madison County, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; and Granville County, N.C.

Plum Island, N.Y., which is home to the current Homeland Security lab, also is considered an alternative, although the site would have to be upgraded.

The new lab would be a top-security center where scientists would conduct research on plant and animal diseases, including those that could affect humans. Officials have said that the center could employ up to 500 research positions, spur an estimated 1,500 construction jobs and ensure an ongoing flow of federal research dollars, spin-off operations and related offerings expected to carry positive, long-term economic effects.

In Manhattan, Kansas State University has offered Homeland Security the use of the university’s new bioresearch lab, while the federal government would build the new 500,000-square-foot NBAF.

“State officials and, indeed, all Kansans are ready and willing to provide this facility to DHS for use as an immediate transition to NBAF,” the letter says, noting that the K-State building would allow research to begin five years before it could begin elsewhere.

An environmental impact study for the Manhattan site is projected to be completed next year. After studies for all sites are completed, Homeland Security will be expected to choose the site where construction would begin in 2010.

Senator Roberts: Kansas Congressional Delegation Urges DHS to Consider Kansas for NBAF

(Editor’s Note: The following is an announcement released Friday by the office of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; the announcement includes the text of a letter from Roberts and the five other members of Kansas’ congressional delegation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

WASHINGTON, DC – U. S. Senator Pat Roberts and the entire Kansas Congressional delegation today sent the following letter to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in support for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas as the Department’s comment period for the Environmental Policy Act process ends today:

“We write today regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s current effort to identify a next generation biological and agricultural defense facility to replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

“This past July, DHS announced that Manhattan, Kansas remains in the running for final site selection. Given that the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) will serve as an essential component in the national strategy for protecting U.S. agriculture from a bio-terrorist attack, we want to stress the unique qualifications presented by the location, economy, and people of Kansas.

“Kansas offers a number of unique advantages that make it an ideal location for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF). Not only is Kansas centrally located with convenient transportation, the world’s largest concentration of animal health vaccine manufacturers are located in the Animal Health Corridor. This corridor includes more than 100 animal health companies, including the U.S. or world headquarters of 37, and has fostered a highly skilled workforce, integrated human health and agriculture biosecurity research capacity and facilities, and strong support at all levels of government. Perhaps even more importantly, the large of number of agriculture producer groups located in the state are accustomed to and wholeheartedly support research that benefits their industry in the long term.

“The site located on the campus of Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan is represented by a unique private and public partnership established by the Kansas Bioscience Authority to support NBAF. The KSU site offers DHS integration into one of the nation’s premier animal health research institutions that is central to NBAF’s mission through internationally recognized veterinary, agriculture, and homeland-security related programs. KSU has a long history of focused research capability in biosecurity that will enable DHS and its partners to fulfill their homeland security missions. KSU’s commitment to homeland security research is demonstrated through its National Agriculture Biosecurity Center and physical infrastructure, such as the Biosecurity Research Institute.

“The Biosecurity Research Institute is a prime example of the Kansas commitment to biosecurity research, its ability to partner with the federal government, and its demonstrated track record of building a state of the art bio and agro-defense facility on time and on budget. This $54 million building is a Biosafety Level 3 facility for agroterrorist and biological agent research and is the most advanced facility of its type in the world. Its unique design includes a slaughter floor and meat processing area within the containment facility and allows for basic pathogen research, infectious plant disease research, infectious animal disease research (both large and small animal) and food safety research, all under one roof. In addition, the size of the facility allows for testing on many other biological scenarios, including the construction of a full size airliner cabin contaminated with a biological agent.

“The existence of this facility is a testament to the forward thinking of all Kansans and the fact that a state of the art facility stands ready to accept DHS researchers and scientists immediately serves as a unique opportunity for DHS. The people of Kansas understand the importance of this research. To date, there has been no resistance to having the BRI located in the state. In fact, local emergency responders tour the facility regularly and are fully integrated in the operation of the site. Furthermore, producer groups have lined up along with academics and the intelligence community to ensure that the most dangerous and potentially harmful pathogens possible are studied in this facility. Lastly, state officials and, indeed, all Kansans are ready and willing to provide this facility to DHS for use as an immediate transition to NBAF. This would allow DHS researchers and scientists to conduct their vital research immediately upon designation of a site in 2008, five years earlier than if DHS had to rely solely on the building of a new facility to be completed in 2013.

“Kansas continues to make the NBAF a critical national and state priority. This is best exhibited through the task force of prominent industry leaders, public officials, producer groups and academic leaders dedicated to this initiative. As a result of this commitment, Kansas has dedicated substantial in-kind cost share toward its NBAF proposals to acquire the sites and fund research activities that will enable DHS and its partner agencies to accelerate the fulfillment of an integrated homeland security mission comprising research, development, testing, evaluation, and response.

“Kansas has demonstrated the research capacity, strong public support and necessary infrastructure to meet DHS’ requirements to fulfill and implement NBAF. We urge your careful consideration of both the Kansas proposal and look forward to ensuring the success of NBAF in Kansas.”

Signatories to the letter are: Roberts, Senator Sam Brownback and Representatives Jerry Moran, Nancy Boyda, Todd Tiahrt and Dennis Moore.

Senator Roberts’ efforts to bring the NBAF to Kansas began in 2005 when the Congress approved funding for site selection and preconstruction planning of a new NBAF to replace Plum Island. Senator Roberts began working with Kansas State University officials and encouraged the University and the state to make a proposal for locating this facility in Kansas. Since that time, Senator Roberts has worked on bringing the NBAF to Kansas, personally speaking with key Administration officials.

Roberts’ staff hosted USDA officials on a tour of the Biosecurity Research Institute, housed in Pat Roberts Hall at Kansas State University, Manhattan, to observe the bio and agro-defense research expertise already present in Kansas. Manhattan was selected for the final rounds of site selection for the new NBAF. DHS originally considered 17 sites in 12 states and in July narrowed down the sites under consideration to five.

The current step in the site selection process is an environmental impact study projected to be completed in 2008 with the public comment period ending today. Upon completion of the studies, DHS will then choose the location of the new NBAF. Construction is set to begin 2010.

Senator Roberts was appointed by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be Honorary Chairman of the Kansas NBAF Task Force. Roberts is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.