The White House budget for 2013 provides no construction funding for a planned livestock disease lab in Kansas and calls for a “comprehensive assessment of the project in 2012” to consider “the cost, safety, and any alternatives to the current plan.”
By Brian Thompson (Manhattan, Kansas)
That development on Monday has opponents and supporters of the potentially billion-dollar National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, also known as NBAF, in an uproar.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and the entire Kansas Congressional delegation — Republicans, all —issued a joint statement vowing to do whatever it takes to see the high-security lab through to completion.
“A needless effort to reassess the importance of protecting our nation's food supply is a waste of taxpayer dollars. This change of direction is unacceptable and will leave our country vulnerable,” the statement read.
Kansas State University, in Manhattan, was selected in 2008 as the site for NBAF, which would replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located just off the East Coast. Detractors have questioned the need for the facility and some have objected to its placement in the heart of the Midwest’s agricultural region.
Sylvia Beeman, of Manhattan, said the news Monday was, if not vindication, at least validation.
“There’s so much power behind the proponents that we’ve felt very small,” she said. “From my viewpoint at least it looks like a lot more caution is going into it, if it ever will be built.”
Despite repeated attempts to get an explanation from the White House or the Department of Homeland Security, which would oversee NBAF, the only response was an email from the Office of Management and Budget.
Spokeswoman Meg Reilly wrote that the administration asked a year ago for $150 million to begin construction. Congress allocated $50 million, which Reilly said is not enough for construction to get under way.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas toured the NBAF construction site at Kansas State University on Monday. He said he still believes NBAF will be a reality.
"The question is how quickly," he said. "This has always been a multi-year project. And the state's been a 100 percent partner in this deal all along and we're going to continue to press forward both at the state and federal level."
Huelskamp said the President’s budget proposal is only the first step in the process.
“Plum Island is still slated to close. They’re not going to go and do a site selection. They just want to make sure in this funding climate that this is the best path forward. There’s critical research that must be done to protect our nation’s food supply. The threats do not go down because we don’t fund it,” he said.
Meanwhile, work is continuing at the construction site in Manhattan.
“It’s really not stopping anything that we’re working on now, because we’re already proceeding with some of the site prep,” Kansas State spokesman Jeff Morris said. “So, it’s not like everything just comes to a halt.”
Morris said the $50 million allocated by Congress last year is still waiting to be spent. That money is for construction of NBAF’s central utilities plant. Congress put a hold on that money because of concerns about the initial risk assessment released by the Department of Homeland Security.
An updated risk assessment is expected in the next couple of weeks. That assessment will have to be validated by a committee of the National Research Council before those funds can be spent. That will be June, at the earliest.