Fourteen states want US bio-agro lab

Billions in economic impact attracts variety of public and private bidders

By | April 3, 2006

Public and private institutions in at least 14 states have applied to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build and operate its proposed $451 million National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), the replacement for the department?s aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) near Long Island, New York. DHS has said it will choose a ?short list? of candidates by this fall. The 14 applicants are located in seven Southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas), five Midwestern states (Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin) and two Western states (California and Colorado). Bidders range in size from a consortium of California public and private universities that have paired with the Department of Energy?s (DOE) Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, down to the governments of St. Lucie County in Florida and Bent County in rural Colorado. The 500,000 square foot lab, to be built on 46,450 square meters, will expand on Plum Island?s mission, conducting research to create vaccines and drugs to fight human diseases, foreign animal diseases, and animal diseases humans can catch. It will house researchers from DHS, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Wherever the new lab is located, it will have an enormous local economic impact, experts say. According to a study by the University of Georgia?s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the NBAF will bring in between $3.5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years. Salaries alone will reach up to $2.5 billion, the report says. The NBAF will also be extremely important for training a larger corps of agricultural researchers, according to Bennie Osburn, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California at Davis. The Scientist compiled its list via confirmations from individual schools. Applications had to be postmarked -- not received -- by March 31, so additional institutions, still unknown, may have applied for the NBAF site. DHS continues to leave the future of Plum Island uncertain. The department web site notes that ?it is anticipated that existing programs and PIADC would transfer to the new facility,? but adds that the DHS might build the new NBAF there or keep the facility at Plum Island, currently equipped to handle biosafety level (BSL) 3 experiments, ?and recapitalize [the facility] meet 21st century laboratory standards.? Most of the buildings at Plum Island -- the only US laboratory capable of handling large cattle in BSL-3 security -- were constructed in the early 50s, and are aging badly. Some experts said they are concerned that politics, not merit, might decide the winner. They worry that some states might have a leg up, given their political connections -- for instance, Texas is President Bush?s home state, and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi was in the Bush Administration. Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, also wants to build the NBAF in his district. Still, George Stewart, a professor at applicant University of Missouri, said that his state?s Congressional delegation has assured him that the vetting process is ?above board.? When asked which applicants most deserve the NBAF, agricultural experts The Scientist interviewed mentioned the California combination, because it includes the state?s university system and DOE?s Lawrence Livermore lab; the Athens, Georgia group, partly because it is near USDA labs; and the North Carolina Research Triangle consortium, because it includes Duke, the University of North Carolina, and the vet school at North Carolina State University. Experts also gave nods to Iowa State University, which is near a main USDA lab complex; Kansas State University, because the state is building its own National Agricultural Biosecurity Laboratory; and the group led by Texas A&M, partly because it already houses the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense. John Miller Links within this article "Fact Sheet: National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility," Department of Homeland Security, August 22, 2005. National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility; Notice of Request for Expression of Interest, Federal Register, January 19, 2006. ?Georgia to bid on bio- and agro-defense facility,? Atlanta Business Chronicle, February 27, 2006. Congressman Bishop, Senator Clinton Discuss Plum Island's Future with Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, Joint Press Release, October 6, 2005. Department of Homeland Security Texas A&M NBAF

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