Archive for Thursday, May 31, 2007

Official tours possible lab site

May 31, 2007

— The official who will decide where to build a $450 million federal biosecurity lab was in Kansas Tuesday for a whirlwind tour of the state's two proposed sites.

Jay Cohen, undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security, briefly inspected the Leavenworth and Manhattan sites for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Chris Kelly, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said Cohen, a retired rear admiral, was visiting each of the 17 proposed sites in 11 states.

"He wants to be able to fully report to Congress his own observations if that subject comes up," Kelly said.

"It was a very quick visit," said James Guikema, an associate provost and biology professor at Kansas State University. Guikema helped prepare the Kansas proposals, but was not part of Cohen's visit.

Guikema said Homeland Security was keeping a tight rein on the process.

"They are viewing this as a procurement-style process," he said. "There is a lot of formality involved in it. They have to be very careful about following rules and making sure no favoritism is expressed."

Last week, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he discussed with Cohen "the many advantages to having Kansas house the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility."

Earlier, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, signed by the entire Kansas congressional delegation, which extolled the state's attributes.

Kansas officials say the state is suited for the high-security lab because of its animal and human research capabilities, central location and strong public support.

The lab will be used to research and respond to potential threats to animal, plant and human health. It would employ in the neighborhood of 400 scientists in a 500,000-square-foot facility.

Kelly said the next step would be when site selection teams, which visited last month, make recommendations to Cohen. By July 1, the number of sites will be reduced to between three and five, he said.

The Leavenworth County site is at 155th Street and Coffin Road, immediately west of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

The winning site will be announced in November 2008.

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