DHS awards NBAF utility plant contract

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Construction of a utility plant for a controversial animal disease research federal laboratory in Kansas can start following the Feb. 21 award of an approximately $40 million contract to joint venture firm McCarthy Mortenson.

Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Nicole Stickel said in a Feb. 22 statement that the award, using $40 million in federal appropriations and an additional amount of money from the state of Kansas, is a modification of an existing contract with McCarthy Mortenson, which conducted site preparation activities for the $1.14 billion project, known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

NBAF is envisioned as an Animal Biosafety Level 4 (the most dangerous possible) and Biosafety Level 3-ag (an agriculture-specific level intermediate between BSL3 and BSL4) laboratory for the study of foreign animal and zoonotic diseases and a replacement for the existing Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is located off of Long Island, N.Y. The PIADC facility will require $60 million to $90 million in capital improvements while NBAF is being built, according to DHS.

Lab project documents (.pdf) obtained by FierceHomelandSecurity through a Freedom of Information Act request indicate that Kansas contributed up to $1.14 million to the utility plant contract, an amount left over from an earlier $18.26 million gift to the federal government for site preparation. Kansas formally transferred in January 46 acres of land located near Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., to DHS for the project. Overall, Kansas has pledged $105 million, another $35 million in research funding, plus the land, to NBAF.

DHS estimates that construction of the 87,000 square foot utility plant will take about two-and-a-half years to complete.

An NBAF overview presentation delivered to the Office of Management and Budget during a Sept. 17 meeting by James Johnson, director of the office of national laboratories within the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, estimates construction of the entire project could be complete in 2019 with accreditation to occur more than a year later in 2020.

NBAF controversy has centered mostly on the possibility of animal diseases such as hoof-and-mouth disease escaping into the agricultural heartland. Johnson, in his presentation, notes that a January 2012 risk assessment based on a review of 65 percent complete design phase planning documents estimated the probability of an accidental release of foot-and-mouth-disease virus is .11 over 50 years.

A June 2012 National Research Council review of that risk assessment said DHS relied on "overly optimistic and unsupported estimates of human error rates, underestimates of infectious material available for release," in coming to its risk probability conclusion.

For more:
- read statements from the Kansas congressional delegation to the NBAF utilities contract

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