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The Kansas congressional delegation, ever wary of discretionary federal expenditures, finds a reasonable home-state investment in the study of microscopic dangers.

Despite a price tag that might hit $1 billion by the end of construction and an active opposition regarding safety concerns, the lawmakers celebrated last week a land transfer that marks another step in locating the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan.

“We have worked hard to secure the congressional commitment to make the NBAF a reality,” said Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, “and this step forward will allow construction to begin early next year.”

The transfer, between the state government and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, involved about 46 acres on the northern part of the Kansas State University campus.

On that site, the federal government will build a facility for the study of “high-consequence” animal diseases, for the development of vaccines and other countermeasures and for the replacement of an aging research facility on an island off New York state.

It will be considered “biosafety level 4,” and the diseases to be studied there have names like Rift Valley Fever, Japanese Encephalitis Virus and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia.

“Without the capabilities NBAF provides, our country is at risk from foreign animal disease threats,” U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement last week.

The project also portends a significant economic impact on Manhattan and Kansas. When completed, it will employ about 326 workers averaging about $77,000 a year in compensation, a 2012 economic analysis said.

During construction, it will create about 757 jobs. The building of the facility, the report said, would support more than $817 million in direct and indirect business activity for Kansas.

Not all in Kansas have greeted this windfall. A group called “No NBAF in Kansas” formed in 2008 and has spread a message that “this facility would be too dangerous to have anywhere on the U.S. mainland, but especially in Manhattan.”

Calling the facility “a germ lab,” the group points to problems ranging from disposal of infected animal carcasses to the proximity to concentrated populations at the university.

It also points to a site risk assessment, conducted by the National Research Council, that estimates the probability of a local infection caused by a laboratory release of foot-and-mouth disease virus at about 70 percent over a 50-year period.

The current research facility, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Orient Point, N.Y., boasts on its website that “not once in our nearly 50 years of operation has an animal pathogen escaped from the island.”

According to a Homeland Security time line, the Manhattan facility would become operational in 2020.

by Ken Newton, Kansas City Star
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