Multiple federal, state and local officials toured the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) currently under construction adjacent to Kansas State University Monday.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Jerry Moran, Gov. Jeff Colyer, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, Kansas 1st District Representative Roger Marshall and K-State President Richard Myers took part in the tour and stood for media availability at the Biosecurity Research Institute at Pat Roberts Hall on the K-State campus.
NBAF is a $1.25 billion facility that will focus on animal disease research and is planned to be fully operational by 2023. Roberts said the project is 65 percent done and is expected to be completed on schedule and on budget. Roberts talked about how the importance of the facility justifies it’s high cost.
“We really have to be on guard, whether its intentional from an agro-terrorism standpoint or whether it simply happens,” said Roberts. “Should that happen, we would really suffer a great deal — our whole effort is to prevent it from happening.”
Mann also talked on the topic of protecting agriculture from terrorist attacks on the U.S. food supply, saying that research done at NBAF could help ensure that protection for posterity.
“We need to be prepared for where they’re going next — or where they might go — and so that requires us to be very visionary on the threats that exist,” Mann said. “So this facility that’s being built here in Manhattan is about the future.”
Part of the high cost is due to technology to ensure that containment of any agents being researched is not compromised. Nielsen said DHS prefers to invest on the front end of the project so that any cost on the back end is less expensive. She also commended the security features in place at NBAF, noting that it is rated to withstand earthquakes and even high speed tornados.
“It will be ready and that’s important because it’s very difficult to bolt on that security on the backend,” said Nielsen. “It’s being built right in — the containment will be secure no matter what the weather throws at us.”
Moran also commented on the price tag of the federal facility that will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.
“It’s never easy to appropriate a billion dollars, that’s a huge amount of money,” Moran said. “But in comparison to the cost to the economy — but more importantly, the lost of life that can occur as a result of either an intentional or unintentional introduction of a bio-agent into our food supply system — it is a price worth paying.”
Colyer said they expect the facility to spur private sector growth in the field of animal science throughout Northeast Kansas and beyond.
“This is absolutely critical for us and what it is doing to the rest of the economy is it is improving and enhancing our opportunities,” Colyer said. “About a quarter of the world’s animal health industry is now being centered from Manhattan on east and that impact over the next 50 years can be measured in the tens of billions of dollars.”
Myers talked about how industry growth as a result of NBAF could impact K-State as well.
“We think there will be firms that will grow up around the lab — vaccine, perhaps other kinds of firms — where we can share research, help conduct that research, [and]get our students involved,” Myers said.
Moran also talked about the facility could benefit students after graduation.
“I am also excited about the potential we have to have young men and women — students at Kansas State and elsewhere across our university system — who will be able to pursue careers because of the things that build up around NBAF’s presence here,” said Moran.
Marshall said that some of the research done at NBAF could have a huge impact on agriculture locally as well as nationally.
“The research we will do here may help us stop the wheat mosaic virus and some of those things as well,” Marshall said. “So it’s truly an investment, it’s a great investment, and I think going forward it will pay dividends for this country.”
The proposed 2019 federal budget would switch authority over NBAF from the DHS to the USDA if approved. Nielsen said whatever happens, they plan to continue to work with USDA so there is a smooth transition between the two departments.
“DHS will continue to play a role on the surveillance and detection side as well as working with our federal partners and our state and locals on the response and recovery should we ever have an event that falls within the bio or ag sphere,” said Nielsen.
Moran said that there is a “close working relationship” between the departments in regards to NBAF and that he doesn’t foresee the change causing any disruptions in the goals of the facility.
“In some ways it is a decision about who is going to be ‘in charge,’ but it doesnt change the mission in any way,” said Moran.