Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Waiting game on for state’s biolab bid

Federal officials quiet after Leavenworth, Manhattan visits

April 25, 2007

They came, they saw, they left.

Now state leaders wait for word from federal officials who visited Kansas last week to inspect two potential sites, in Leavenworth and Manhattan, for a $450 million biodefense laboratory.

"I think the recent site visits went well," said Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson.

"I've always believed that even under the highest of scrutiny, any person would see that Kansas truly is the best location for this facility.

"We have the academic, agricultural and defense background needed to give this operation a strong foundation," Parkinson said.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is the prize that 11 states, which have offered 17 potential sites, are hoping to land.

The high-security facility will replace an aging lab in New York and be used to work on potential threats to plant, animal and human health.

Starting last week, teams from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Agriculture made visits to potential sites.

On Wednesday, they were in Leavenworth, and on Thursday, they were in Manhattan.

Tom Thornton, chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said the officials walked the sites and talked with state and local representatives.

The feds experienced chamber-of-commerce-like weather, Thornton said, but didn't reveal their feelings one way or the other about Kansas.

"These guys would be the best poker players in the world," he said.

Kansas officials, most notably U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have said the state has an excellent shot at landing the lab.

Roberts said the state's central location, agricultural expertise, health facilities and public support make it a prime candidate.

The federal evaluators were given an hourlong tour of a new $54 million biosecurity lab in Manhattan, said former Manhattan Mayor Bruce Snead, who is on the governor's task force charged with leading the state's efforts in landing the biodefense facility in Kansas.

"They were ... impressed with its capacity for training and research and as a means to prepare before (their lab) is able to open," he said.

This week, the federal officials will be in Kentucky, Georgia and Maryland. The visits wrap up in mid-May, and DHS is scheduled this summer to narrow its list down to three to five sites, which will undergo environmental assessments. A final decision on the site will be announced in October 2008.

"I believe we have the best site here, but we'll compete and see where the chips fall and hopefully continue to compete in the final round," Snead said.

Regardless of the outcome on the lab, Thornton said the state has shown it is serious in getting national attention in bioscience.

"We are not stopping. The growth of the animal health corridor is a high priority for us," he said.

-- 49 News reporter Jesse Fray contributed to this report.

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