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Kansas will be site of new $450 million biodefense lab

The federal government has recommended a site in at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS, for a new $450 million laboratory to study biological threats like anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease.

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

DHS official revealed their decision to several lawmakers last month. According to a report in The Capital-Journal, a three-year review of applicants by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led to a recommendation of a site in Manhattan for construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

“The Department of Homeland Security certainly made the correct recommendation,” said U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. “Kansas stands ready to accelerate our nation’s animal disease research efforts, and we clearly have the expertise and assets to get results.”

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who went to Washington to push for the project earlier this fall, said the lobbying effort paid off.

“This is great news for our state, both on the bioscience front and with the jobs that will come with this facility,” she said. “It’s nice to have some good news during this challenging economic time.”

The laboratory in Kansas would replace an outdated facility in New York state. Researchers would study of foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses.

Homeland Security’s final environmental impact statement, which examined the potential of six sites, pointed to Kansas as the best local for the laboratory. The decision won’t be affirmed by the agency until after a 30-day comment period.

The executive summary of the impact statement noted Kansas State’s strengths in term of the original evaluation criteria, proximity to existing research in the field, community acceptance, the state’s willingness to provide incentives of more than $100 million and a realization the Manhattan site was “among the least expensive to construct and had among the lowest planned operation costs of all the site alternatives.”

NBAF would replace a Plum Island, N.Y., complex that has hosted the federal government’s animal disease research for about 50 years.

Several farm groups have expressed concern about the risks of moving the lab to the U.S. mainland, but Homeland Security officials say it can operate safely using modern containment procedures.

The lab is expected to generate 1,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. The payroll could approach $30 million annually once the project was completed in 2015.
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.

University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who served on the state’s NBAF task force, said the new facility would “be a major economic asset to our state and will boost bioscience research throughout the region, including at KU.”

“When coupled with the cancer, pharmaceutical and other research taking place here, this lab will make Kansas an international center for bioscience research,” Hemenway said.

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