Kansas worked hard to become the new home of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Now, Kansas must fight hard to keep NBAF.
The state’s congressional delegation, the governor and other state leaders led the effort to convince federal officials in Washington, D.C., that Kansas State University in Manhattan was the best location for the new NBAF laboratory to replace the aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y.
While other states competing for the project — Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas — might have had more political clout, Kansas was chosen as the site. The lab, initially expected to open by 2018, would create several hundred high-paying jobs, boost economic growth in the region and help anchor the state’s bioscience industry.
The $1.1 billion facility would research dangerous animal diseases that could threaten the nation’s food supply. Backers of the project say it is vital to national security, but critics are raising concerns about security and the possibility of an accidental release of diseases.
Last week, an independent report mandated by Congress and prepared by the National Research Council contended that a favorable Homeland Security assessment in March was flawed and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security still doesn’t have a good assessment of how it could operate the facility safely. The report said that DHS had overestimated the danger posed by tornadoes and earthquakes but underestimated the risks of disease being released by human error. A spokeswoman for DHS noted, however, that the report called the new lab “a critical asset” and said its designs are sound.
Congress had set aside $90 million to build a new utility plant for the lab and continue site work in Manhattan but told Homeland Security it couldn’t spend the money until the National Research Council had finished its report. Although the report indicates that additional security work remains to be done, Kansas officials, with the support of some Missouri leaders, are pressing Homeland Security to release the $90 million and get the project started. Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at K-State, points out that the new lab will face rigorous, ongoing reviews by other federal agencies and further pre-construction safety assessments don’t serve much purpose. “It’s time to build the building,” he said. “It’s time to move forward.”
Safety and security are critical issues, but initial work on the NBAF project should be allowed to proceed. There is still time to finalize the necessary security plans for the project, but Kansas officials are right to press federal authorities to keep this project moving forward.