Government Recommends Kansas for Biodefense Lab

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government has recommended a site in Kansas for a new $450 million laboratory to study biological threats like anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease, congressional lawmakers and staff said Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security's choice of Manhattan, Kan., beat out intense competition from other sites in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

Agency official revealed their decision to several lawmakers late Tuesday, according to lawmakers and staff familiar with the briefings. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement won't be made until later this week, when the agency releases an environmental impact statement.

Leaders across Kansas hailed the decision as the right choice. Governor Kathleen Sebelius said, "Kansas has made bioscience research a top priority, and we're focused on using our research strengths to address global bioscience challenges. There is no doubt Kansas is the right partner for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, and we're thrilled the hard work has paid off for our state."

The choice won't become final until sometime after a 30-day window period for comments on the decision, which could face legal challenges from losing states.

The new lab would replace an aging 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, about four miles off the eastern shore of Long Island, N.Y. It would be built on Kansas State University's campus as an extention of the new Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall.

"This is great news for Kansas State University, Manhattan and Kansas," said K-State President Jon Wefald. "This facility - with 300 world-class scientists - will enhance K-State's reputation and prestige as the leading university in America for animal health and food safety and security."

Foot-and-mouth research has been confined to the island since 1955 to avoid an accidental outbreak that could lead to the slaughter of millions of livestock. The disease does not sicken humans.

Some farm groups have expressed concern about the risks of moving the lab to the U.S. mainland. The Bush administration acknowledged earlier this year that accidents have happened with the feared virus at the Plum Island facility. A group against the bio-facility in Manhattan had formed, called No NBAF in Kansas. The group declined comment Wednesday.

Homeland Security officials are convinced it can operate safely using the latest containment procedures. And Kansas officials are focused on the $3.5 billion economic infusion the lab could mean for the local economy.

"Farmers and cattlemen have long been asking for an acceleration of U.S. research to combat dangerous animal diseases," said Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus. "So we are pleased that the federal government has put the mission first in recommending the best home for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility."

The lab is expected to generate about 1,500 construction jobs and a permanent payroll of $25 million to $30 million for more than 300 employees once the project is completed by 2015.

The state mounted one of the most aggressive efforts to win the new lab, forming a special task force to lobby Homeland Security officials after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., promoted its economic potential.

The Kansas legislature approved $105 million in bonds to buy land, upgrade roads, install a security fence and build a utility plant at the site on the Kansas State University campus. Kansas State University already conducts similar research at its Biosecurity Research Institute, near the proposed site of the new lab.

Besides foot-and-mouth disease, researchers also would study African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses.

Other finalist sites were Flora, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio.

Senators Roberts and Brownback Comment on NBAF

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback Wednesday said the following regarding media reporting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will indicate Manhattan, Kansas and Kansas State University is its top choice to be the new home of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF):

Senator Roberts said, "I remain optimistic regarding media reporting that DHS has selected the site with the proven merits – Kansas and Kansas State University. I have been working to establish Kansas as a leader in agriculture, animal health, and biosecurity since 2001. We are the best location for the NBAF."

Senator Brownback said, "If NBAF comes to Kansas, it is estimated that over a twenty year period, the facility would have a significant impact on the state’s economy. I have worked diligently on behalf of Kansas’ proposal at the federal level and am hopeful that Kansas will be NBAF’s new home state."

Kansas put forth an aggressive cost share proposal that will allow the Department of Homeland Security to accelerate research to protect the American food supply and agriculture economy.

Kansas and Kansas State University offer internationally recognized animal health research expertise; strong research infrastructure; and an unmatched concentration of animal health companies.

The state also has a unique understanding of the importance of the NBAF research mission because of its deep agriculture heritage.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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