DHS signs NBAF land transfer

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A controversial animal disease federal research lab project took a step forward to completion with Homeland Security Department signature on the land transfer agreement. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and state congressional delegates announced Jan. 2 DHS acceptance of a 46 acre parcel in Manhattan, Kan., slated to be the site of the $1.14 billion 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.

In a statement, Brownback said the transfer "demonstrates DHS' continued commitment to completing the NBAF in Manhattan" and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano committed to starting construction of the central utilities plant in 2013. So far, DHS has spent $125 million on NBAF preparation, according to the Kansas announcement. The state government has committed $105 million in matching funds for NBAF and $35 million in research funding for the transition of animal disease research to Kansas, it adds.

The Plum Island facility--universally acknowledged as reaching the end of its lifespan--suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy and requires $3.2 million in immediate repair work and erosion control, according (.pdf) to the Office of Management and Budget.

NBAF controversy has centered mostly on the possibility of animal diseases such as hoof and mouth disease escaping into the agricultural heartland. Manhattan is inside a part of the country known as Tornado Alley; an EF4-level tornado with winds between 165 and 200 miles per hour touched down there in June 2008.

A July 2012 National Academy of Sciences report also questioned whether the full NBAF facility is still needed, stating that in the years since the facility's 2006 proposal, other public and private biocontainment labs have come into existence, meaning that NBAF could be unnecessarily duplicative.

A January 2012 report (.pdf) commissioned by Kansas State University estimates NBAF would directly employ 326 workers and have an economic impact of about $3.5 billion in its first 25 years.

For more:
- read the Kansas state announcement on the land transfer

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