Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State leaders pursuing budget on agro-defense facility

April 21, 2009

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NBAF: A timeline

• In 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposes construction and operation of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to increase animal disease research capabilities. • January 2006: DHS solicits NBAF site proposals and receives 29 applicants. • December 2006: DHS whittles down the number of potential sites to 18, including Manhattan and Leavenworth. • February 2007: U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., addresses joint session of Legislature urging backing of NBAF effort. • July 2007: Manhattan is among the six finalists, but Leavenworth is cut. • March 2008: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signs law authorizing $105 million in bonds for NBAF project. • December 2008: The homeland security department announces Manhattan will be the site of the new facility. • March 2009: The homeland security department issued its request for preliminary construction bids on NBAF. • What’s next: Construction is scheduled to start in 2010 and take five years. The project is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs.

Kansas politicians usually don’t have trouble finding something to argue about.

There’s Republican vs. Democrat; conservative Republican vs. moderate Republican; evolution vs. intelligent design — you get the idea.

But one thing the state’s elected leaders have agreed on is getting the federal government to build a top-level biosecurity lab in Manhattan.

The unity paid off last year when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security picked Kansas State University for the location of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, NBAF.

The lab will be used to study and conduct research on the most dangerous pathogens in existence, in pursuit of securing the nation’s food supply.

But now that Kansas has won the high-stakes competition for the facility, officials are working hard to make sure that the federal government makes funding NBAF construction a national priority.

In March, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas’ legislative and congressional leadership, and members of the Kansas Bioscience Authority met with top officials with Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and Congress to work on transitioning research and appropriations to K-State.

Those who participated in the meetings said the discussions were extremely productive.

“It certainly speaks volumes that Kansas presents a united front with bipartisan leadership,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, who attended the two days of meetings in Washington, D.C. “Even though we have been awarded the facility, there are a whole host of issues that need to be decided by the federal government.”

The $450 million NBAF will replace an aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. Construction on NBAF is scheduled to start later this year and take five years. The 500,000-square-foot facility will produce 1,500 construction jobs and several hundred high-paying research jobs, in addition to spinning off other research projects.

In the meantime, Kansas officials are asking the federal government to start research operations at K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute, a 113,000-square-foot lab that was completed in 2006.

“The federal officials know that we have the BRI ready to go, hopefully to get research started,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. Many of the pathogens, he said, that could be studied at NBAF can be studied at BRI.

He said Kansas officials met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to talk about the proposal of using the BRI, and Vilsack said his staff would work on the issue.

Davis said there is great interest in starting research at the BRI “so we can start receiving the economic benefits. This is something the Bioscience Authority is going to have to be diligent about.”

Congressional officials told Kansas that there already is approximately $36 million in the budget to start working on developing NBAF.

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