Manhattan Three years ago, Kansas won a big-league competition to have the top-level federal biosecurity laboratory.
But now the $650 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is mired in an appropriations limbo in Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, members of the Kansas Board of Regents looked at the empty 46-acre NBAF site adjacent to Kansas State University.
“The challenge is trying to do something significant in a tight budget process,” said Regent Ed McKechnie, chairman of the board.
The Department of Homeland Security selected the Kansas site to replace an aging lab at Plum Island, N.Y. The new lab is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Once built, the 600,000-square-foot NBAF will be used for the study of diseases that could threaten the food supply and public health. Some of these include Nipah virus, Hendra virus, African swine fever, and foot and mouth disease.
Kansas officials are hoping that NBAF will be the anchor of an animal health corridor, running from Kansas State through Kansas University and to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where hundreds of scientists are working on advances in food production and disease research.
But President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget does not include construction funding for NBAF and recommends DHS reassess the project, its scope and alternatives.
Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at K-State, told the regents he was confident that the funding for NBAF will be put back in the budget.
“We feel confident there will be money in the congressional lines,” he said. One of the reasons, Trewyn said, is because there is $10 million budgeted for federal research at the already operating Biosecurity Research Institute, a high-level bio lab that is part of Kansas State and next door to the NBAF site.
Officials have credited the construction of the BRI as a possible reason that Kansas gained the advantage in NBAF site selection.
Trewyn said the Plum Island facility “is not something that is going to hold up.” And the importance of NBAF to protect the nation’s health and safety cannot be overstated because of the ability for diseases to travel and mutate.