NBAF plans hit a snag

Obama's 2013 budget cuts construction funding, asks for more research
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Apr 01, 2012

MANHATTAN, KAN. — Although President Barack Obama's 2013 budget proposal doesn't include an anticipated $50 million for the construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas, plans to build the facility are by no means derailed, say those close to the project.

"From what I can read, I would anticipate that we would be able to remain on target," says Dr. Ralph Richardson, dean of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a board member of the KC Animal Health Corridor. "The premise for considering (Manhattan, Kan.) as a replacement for Plum Island was based on two things—an aging facility that was expensive to maintain and upgrade because of its location and the desire to locate governmental researchers ... in close proximity to other researchers at a college of agriculture and a college of veterinary medicine. I think those two premises still stand as very important that we need to keep in mind."

Obama's new budget, unveiled in February, 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.

Richardson stresses the fact that Obama's budget proposal has a long way to go until it's adopted, and nothing is firm until then. Still, he says, if the budget were to pass as proposed, it includes $10 million for supporting research, currently conducted at Plum Island, to be moved to the Kansas State University Biosecurity Research Institute.

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 in March 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.

While a number of animal-health companies already call the KC Corridor home, a decision by the federal government to change its plans on NBAF could deliver a big hit to the region.

"While the Corridor continues to thrive and attract new companies and jobs, the NBAF project is significant confirmation that the Corridor is the nexus of the global animal-health industry. It would be a disappointment if the NBAF didn't become a reality in the Corridor," says Kimberly Young, vice president of biosciences development for the Kansas City Area Development Council. "We have many assets here that have developed over a more than 120-year legacy of caring for the food supply in our nation, and now around the world. One day we hope NBAF will also be one of those assets—not only to benefit the region but to protect our agricultural assets nationwide. As a nation we deserve a state-of-the-art facility and the KC Animal Health Corridor has already proven itself as the ideal location."

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, DHS says.