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Kansas long sought NBAF

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)--Landing a new $450 million national biothreat lab in Kansas would be the culmination of years of effort to bring federal research dollars to the state, focused on the state's heritage of agriculture.

Sen. Pat Roberts said Dec. 3 he had obtained a copy of the final environmental impact statement prepared by the Department of Homeland Security naming Manhattan, Kan., as the site for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. It replaces an aging lab at Plum Island, N.Y. Kansas is competing with Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi for the project.

The Associated Press also obtained a draft copy of Homeland Security's "Preferred Alternative Selection Memorandum," prepared by department Undersecretary Jay Cohen.

"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," Kansas State University President Jon Wefald said in a statement. A news conference was planned Thursday, Dec. 4 in Manhattan.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who went to Washington to push for the project earlier this fall, was pleased the hard work paid off.

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

A formal announcement won't be made until later this week, when the agency formally releases the environmental impact statement. But the choice won't be final until after a 30-day period for comments on the decision, which could face legal challenges from losing states.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who represents Kansas' 4th District in Congress, said if the news is true it would be "a tremendous boost for our state."

"The Kansas economy just got stronger," said the Republican Tiahrt. "The fruits of this program are immense and will be felt in Kansas for decades to come."

Roberts and Sam Brownback, both Republicans, said Kansas was aggressive in chasing the project and setting the foundation for the future.

"There is no doubt, securing this facility would be one of, if not the greatest, economic development initiatives in state history," Roberts said. "It is a key to the economic future of Kansas. If it happens, future generations of Kansans will have economic opportunities available to them that are currently unimaginable or available only outside the border of Kansas."

Rep. Jerry Moran, a Republican representing Kansas' 1st District, called the news "an early Christmas gift" for the state.

If Kansas wins the project, the laboratory would be built on 59 acres at Kansas State University near the Biosecurity Research Institute, where similar activities are conducted on plant and animal diseases. University officials have said that the lab could conduct a portion of the research that will be done at NBAF until that facility is completed, which is expected to be by 2015.

Kansas has pledged more than $105 million in infrastructure improvements to the campus, as well, to satisfy requirements of the federal project. Legislators authorized issuing bonds during the 2008 session.

Throughout the application process, Kansas officials have touted the state's status as a leading producer of beef, wheat and other agriculture commodities. Nearly 20 percent of Kansans are employed in agriculture.

Manhattan is at the western edge of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, which is home to more than 120 animal health companies employing 13,000 specialists. The corridor stretches to Columbia, Mo., and includes the University of Kansas and University of Missouri.

Critics of the project raised concerns about safety to residents living in proximity of the lab, including on-campus housing, as well as thousands of head of livestock in the region that would be vulnerable.

"I am very disappointed. I think safety is a big issue, the possibility of human error," said Sylvia Beeman of the Manhattan-based No NBAF organization. "I am really dismayed that they picked Manhattan."

She said the organization worked hard to convince people of NBAF's risks, but didn't have the ability to overcome efforts by state and university officials.

"A lot of people who should have been speaking out are scientists at Kansas State who are afraid of losing their funding or their jobs," Beeman said.

University officials said the lab would be self-contained and self-sufficient, with protection from severe storms or loss of power that could threaten research.

12/15/08
1 Star WK\12-B

Date: 12/31/08



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