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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Senators approve bonds for NBAF

March 20, 2008

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— Senators approved a bill Wednesday authorizing $105 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements to attract a national biodefense laboratory.

The 37-0 vote sent the measure to the House, where it is expected to win quick approval.

Kansas is competing with Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas for the $451 million National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to replace an aging laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y. A decision on where to place the facility is expected later this year.

State officials have submitted a proposal to build the lab at Kansas State University near an existing biosecurity research center on the Manhattan campus. Senators also approved a nonbinding resolution expressing their support for the project by the same 37-0 vote.

The bonds would be used to buy land, upgrade roads, install a security fence and build a utility plant. Senate President Steve Morris said the bill also allows the project to accept in-kind support, such as site preparation work, which would reduce the amount of bonds needed to build the utility plant.

Bond payments would be $8.2 million a year for 20 years, pushing the total cost to about $164 million.

Morris said with the passage of the bond package, the state will have completed all requirements for what Kansas officials maintain is a strong proposal.

"We've been promised that this is everything," said Morris, a Hugoton Republican.

Kansas officials have been scrambling to come up with a utility plant proposal after learning recently it was a requirement from federal officials for being chosen for the new lab.

Homeland Security officials have said that the utility needs were always part of the criteria, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said last week that it was a new wrinkle.

In the House, Speaker Melvin Neufeld said the Appropriations Committee will consider a similar bill.

"This is really the best and final offer," Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican, said of the state's bid to land the laboratory.

Legislative leaders have touted the economic potential from having the lab built in Kansas.

Morris said Kansas has a strong agricultural heritage and that 40 percent of the world's animal health industry is along a corridor from Kansas State to the University of Missouri campus in Columbia. He compared the potential benefit to the cluster of research facilities that have spurred growth in North Carolina near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

"It's important for the economic growth of our state. We're building on our strength," Morris said. "Having the facility where the rubber meets the road is important."

Sebelius, who met recently with DHS officials in Washington, D.C., about the Kansas proposal, said the economic impact of landing the project could be $1.5 billion over 20 years, and it could spur private business development.

"It also establishes our state as the premier animal experts in the country," Sebelius said.

She added: "The university will have a greater opportunity to build national collaborative relationships with research universities throughout the heartland, and eventually throughout the United States, to attract additional private sector partners to continue to grow this vibrant economic sector, and to take advantage of the tremendous expertise already in place."

Added Neufeld, "All the human health discoveries actually come from the basic research that these people are doing."

Also, he said, if a major incident were to endanger the food supply or human health, "we would have access to the best scientists."

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