Homeland Security signs transfer for Kansas animal bio-security lab

Jan 11, 2013

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one step closer to bringing up-to-date livestock disease testing to modern America having now acquired land in Kansas for the new National Bio-and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF).

Federal officials have moved forward again on relocating the NBAF into central Kansas by signing a land transfer agreement for the facility earlier this month. The new location will eventually replace the Plum Island location off of New York, which has long needed updating or replacing and has suffered damage from the recent Hurricane Sandy.

The agreement has set aside approximately 46 acres near the northeast corner of Kansas State University for the 580,000 -square-foot facility. The current Plum Island facility the NBAF will replace began its use as an animal disease test site in the early 1950s. The island site has long been considered unsuitable and dilapidated for modern bio-safety needs.

The land transfer move was hailed by Kansas officials. Gov. Sam Brownback announced the signing of the land transfer agreement was evidence of the government’s commitment to building the new facility, valued at $1.14 billion.

“While there is much more work to be done, signing of the land transfer agreement is a good step forward in securing the future health, wealth and security of the our nation,” said Brownback. “Kansas stands ready to partner with DHS to move this important national security priority forward.”

According to an older DHS timeline, the current proceedings are running behind schedule. The process has been hung up by federal financing issues and push-back concerns over the Kansas location which was settled upon in 2009. The older timeline placed initial site preparation and construction to begin between February to August of 2012. Currently, the project is expected to be commissioned by 2018 and operational and accredited for vaccine trials beginning in 2020.

The first phase of construction will reportedly be a utilities plant which will support the lab itself. Sen. Pat Roberts told the Associated Press he spoke recently with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who indicated construction on the utilities plant shouldn’t face further delays.

The construction and eventual staffing and functioning of the lab is reported to bring in over 750 temporary construction jobs to the area and over 300 permanent, high-paying jobs to the facility. The facility’s anticipated work is expected to be valued at $3.5 billion over the course of NBAF’s first 20 years.

The new facility will take up the duties of the Plum Island facility in studying animal and zoonotic diseases and testing vaccines.

Some of those most dangerous and strictly controlled diseases which would be studied there at the facility include: Nipah Virus, Hendra Virus, African Swine Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Japanese Encephalitis Virus, Foot and Mouth Disease, Classical Swine Fever and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia. These diseases require some of the highest level of bio-security.

The location was selected following a three-year scoping period which included “a thorough risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, and security assessment,” according to information on the DHS site. Despite concerns over the inland and centralized nature of the location, the site was selected for its proximity to existing bio security and veterinary research infrastructure. Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor