Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2006

County makes first cut for bio-defense lab

August 16, 2006

A Leavenworth County site has made the first cut in the competition to land a proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in an announcement last week, said 18 sites in 11 states -- including the Leavenworth County bid -- had advanced to the next phase in the competitive process.

"We're pleased we made the first cut here," said William Duncan, chief executive officer of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Initiative. "It gives us the opportunity to go onto that next step."

The National Bio-Defense Facility is a joint effort of the U.S. Homeland Security, Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments. It would employ about 250 scientists in a 500,000-square-foot, $451 million facility that includes a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory -- the highest level of biosafety. The facility would be charged with helping protect the nation's agricultural and public health.

A team of government engineers, scientists, lawyers, academics and communicators conducted reviews of 29 interested sites and trimmed the list to 18, based on these four criteria:

  • Acquisition, construction and operations.
  • Research capabilities.
  • Work force.
  • Community acceptance.

The Leavenworth County site is at 155th Street and Coffin Road, immediately west of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

A second Kansas site, at Kansas State University in Manhattan, also remains under consideration.

"It makes an awful lot of sense to an awful lot of people in this part of the country to locate this facility here," Duncan said.

Duncan and Lynn McClure, executive director of Leavenworth Area Development Corp., said they didn't know specifically what federal officials would be seeking in the second phase of the competition.

But Duncan noted he expected to learn this week what the government wants.

In its announcement about the project, Homeland Security said the department expected to review the new, more detailed information from the 18 remaining sites.

Then Homeland Security is expected to narrow the potential sites to "a small list of final candidates" by the end of the year.

The short list of candidate sites will then be the subjects of environmental impact studies, with the final site named in early 2008, the department said.

Construction would begin in late 2009 with operations beginning in 2013.

McClure said he wasn't quite ready to handicap the race to land the facility.

But the economic development expert said, "There's a lot of things that add up here."

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