Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Federal officials visit to evaluate proposed lab site

April 19, 2007

As federal officials Wednesday arrived in Kansas to inspect potential sites for a $450 million bio-defense laboratory, state officials amped up their sales pitch.

"Kansas offers a number of unique advantages that make it an ideal location for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility," U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The letter was signed by the entire Kansas congressional delegation.

Roberts said Kansas was ideally suited to base the high-security lab, which will be used to research and respond to potential threats to animal, plant and human health.

Kansas is home to a concentration of animal health companies, human health and agriculture biosecurity facilities, and the state offers a central location, he said.

"Perhaps even more importantly, the large number of agriculture producer groups located in the state are accustomed to and wholeheartedly support research that benefits their industry in the long term," the letter states.

Homeland Security officials are visiting 17 sites in 11 states in the process of selecting where to build the laboratory.

In Kansas, two potential sites are in the mix - one in Leavenworth and one in Manhattan.

On Wednesday, federal officials visited Leavenworth, and today they will be in Manhattan.

Chris Kelly, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said officials would review the two proposals with local officials. There would be no public meetings or media availabilities during the inspections, he said.

"It's a procurement process, and we can't have interactions that may impact them," Kelly said.

And despite the lobbying from members of Congress, DHS officials have said the decision on where to locate the facility will not be based on politics.

DHS has stated that the main factors will be the site's proximity to research capabilities, quality workforce, community acceptance, and offers from the community to offset costs.

Leavenworth's site includes 178 acres behind Fort Leavenworth.

Manhattan's is at Kansas State University. Officials have pledged up to $5 million in infrastructure improvements and economic assistance. Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved legislation that if one of the Kansas sites is chosen would help facilitate the move.

Roberts' letter says each of the two Kansas locations have their own benefits that "are not mutually exclusive."

The Leavenworth site offers DHS access to private and public research institutions, including Kansas University Medical Center, major animal vaccine manufacturers in the Kansas City-area, and a number of Homeland Security entities associated with Fort Leavenworth, he said.

The Manhattan site includes one of the nation's top animal health research institutions, and a new $54 million biosecurity lab that could partner with the federal government.

DHS spokesman Kelly said the 17 sites would be narrowed to three to five sites this summer. Those sites will undergo environmental assessments that will take 16 months. DHS plans to announce the NBAF site in October2008 and hopes to start operations in the facility by 2014.

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