National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility
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A site at Kansas State University in Manhattan remains in the mix for a new $450 million bio-security laboratory, according to a draft of a federal study that examines potential sites for a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Leaders working to secure the project for Kansas say that they're pleased with the draft environmental impact statement - as much for what's not included in its hundreds of pages as what is.
"I certainly don't see any significant downsides that we can't address," said Ron Trewyn, vice president for research at K-State, in a conference call soon after the document was released Friday afternoon. "We're looking forward to remaining in the game and moving forward."
The project's draft environmental impact statement examines conditions and risks at the six sites being considered for the high-security federal lab. The lab, as envisioned, would be designed and operated to protect the country and its food supply from diseases and other threats.
The statement, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, will be used by the Department of Homeland Security in deciding where to locate the lab.
"If there's a sigh of relief over here, it's that there's no strike, no barrier, no environmental threat that we weren't aware of," said Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. "We're more than pleased to hear that."
The department is scheduled to pick a site later this year, likely in December, said John Verrico, a department spokesman. Along with KSU in Manhattan, five other sites are being considered: Athens, Ga.; Granville County, N.C.; Madison County, Miss.; San Antonio; and an existing lab at Plum Island, N.Y.
The document released Friday does not conclude that any one particular site stands out or any of the others have fallen behind, Verrico said.
Instead, he said, it simply distributes all the information gathered so that people can start discussing which site might work best.
"All six sites are on equal footing," Verrico said. "This report doesn't recommend one site over another. Everything is still on the table. What it does is tell us what we're looking at as far as potential environmental impacts at each of the sites."
Two public meetings - one in the morning, and another in the afternoon - will be conducted July 31 at KSU to answer questions and gather input, all of which will incorporated into the final report.
The final report then will recommend a specific site for the project, expected this fall.
Kansas leaders have been pushing to secure the project for Kansas, saying that the state is best because of its widespread public acceptance, proximity to research universities, and connection with agriculture.
The Manhattan site would be immediately adjacent to K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute. It covers 48.4 acres southeast of the intersection of Kimball and Denison avenues.
Thornton, of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, emphasized Friday that environmental issues would not be the only issues considered when deciding where the project should go.
Factors in decision
Cost, policy, collaboration and other factors also will be weighed, perhaps even more heavily than the voluminous data, charts, and other information compiled in the draft of the environmental impact statement.
Specifically, he said:
¢ Kansas already is home to a huge number of animal-science companies and research operations, offering unprecedented opportunities for collaboration. And 15 states have signed on to support Kansas' bid for the lab.
¢ Kansas has offered more money to help offset project costs.
¢ The Manhattan site would be adjacent to an established high-security lab operation, and at a school with the world's finest education and training for workers in such labs.
"We will come back to these policy issues, these cost issues, and these safety issues," Thornton said, of the state's strategy for landing the lab. "Going forward, those will be the three-legged stool that we intend to stand up on.
"Strong research. Animal health. Strong public support. Very effective collaboration. The big number of states that are supporting our bid. The state has put money up to offset the cost. And, of course, continuing to (emphasize) these safety and security issues - that, I think, will be where we openly stand up."
Jamie Johnson, director of national labs for Homeland Security, noted Friday that one set of facts in the draft statement already had been gaining attention: The potential economic loss brought about by a release of Foot and Mouth Disease (which would be researched at the lab, where vaccines would be under development).
The numbers: $4.2 billion in Kansas and $4.1 billion in Texas, given their proximity to livestock herds; $3.5 billion in North Carolina; $3.4 billion in Mississippi; $3.35 billion in Georgia. In New York, on Plum Island, the risk would be $2.8 billion.
But the report also concluded that the risk of a release of the disease from the lab would be "very low," Johnson said. And decision makers will be considering the state's pluses, as well, such as proximity to the research community and others to come up with the best potential response and defenses for any detrimental disease threatening the food chain.
The document released Friday established no clear front runner, he said. It simply sets a path toward a decision, with the environmental effects, consequences and variables all factored in.
"We are not required to pick the site that has the least environment impact," he said, "but at least the decision maker is aware."