NBAF laboratory construction delayed as feds cut funding
President Barack Obama’s new budget, unveiled last week, slashed funding for NBAF’s construction, despite a request for $150 million in 2012. Congress appropriated $50 million of the request last year, but it wasn’t enough to begin construction, the budget proposal notes. As a result, the Obama administration decided to conduct a new assessment of the project, considering cost and safety, as well as possible alternatives. In the meantime, research on high-threat veterinary diseases will continue at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center with a 2013 budget request for $10 million.
Kansas officials recently authorized $45.4 million in bonds for the construction of NBAF, and the federal government was scheduled to match another $40 million after the release of a "site-specific risk assessment report.”
Construction was expected to begin on a central utility plan this month, with work on the laboratory starting by August. Operations were set to move from Plum Island to Kansas in 2017, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expected the new facility to be fully operational by 2020, as reported in DVM Newsmagazine.
Plans to relocate Bio-Safety Level-4 (BSL-4) operations from Plum Island, N.Y., to Manhattan, Kan., were first announced in late 2008. The laboratory operations were expected to pump $3.5 million into the Kansas economy.
The Manhattan site for NBAF was chosen over four other locations. NBAF has been touted as a modern, high-security facility to study foreign-animal and zoonotic diseases. It would replace the aging Plum Island facility—located four miles off Long Island—where studies on anthrax, foot-and-mouth disease and other threats have been conducted for more than 50 years. The existing facility is too small to meet the nation's research needs, and it does not have BSL-4 capabilities.
Questions about the selection of the Manhattan site surfaced in 2009 following the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizing DHS for failing to assess the biosecurity and economic risks of moving the facility from New York to Kansas. The report noted that a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak at Plum Island would have a $31 million economic impact in comparison to a $1 billion economic impact in Kansas.
Construction initially was expected to begin in July 2010, but the GAO study caused a delay, resulting in lawmakers calling for additional studies by DHS.