Progress toward NBAF might not have taken a giant step forward Tuesday, but the commitment to the project demonstrated by several of this state’s most powerful politicians remains cause for optimism.
The occasion, as a story in Tuesday’s Mercury reported, was a meeting of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility Steering Committee. It’s chaired by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts; other members who represent Kansas in Washington, D.C., are Sen. Jerry Moran, and 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Among other members there were KSU President Kirk Schulz, Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd and Kansas Bioscience Authority Chairman Dan Watkins.
They and Gov. Sam Brownback, who set up the committee, touched on a number of issues: a construction update, NBAF’s projected economic impact on the Flint Hills and the state, cost estimates and the facility’s importance to the nation as well as to Kansas.
Projected costs, complicated by the national debate over the debt, and renewed studies into the safety of as well as the need for NBAF have all but stalled its progress. Sen. Roberts, who rarely minces his words, described as “ridiculous” one possibility being considered — keeping research that would be done in Manhattan at the aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. He also took issue with sharply rising cost estimates for NBAF. The Department of Homeland Security is dealing with a projected cost of $1.2 billion, about twice the amount that Sen. Roberts considers more accurate. Unfortunately, the longer construction is delayed, the higher the ultimate cost will be.
KSU’s President Schulz offered assurances that BRI, the Biosecurity Research Institute, is ready to handle some of the research that will eventually be performed at NBAF and that KSU and the city will collaborate to make sure facilities exist for private firms that plan to operate in Manhattan because of NBAF’s research.
Appropriately, President Schulz also spoke of the need to emphasize NBAF’s importance beyond Kansas.
NBAF has ample support in Kansas, where residents appreciate not only the economic impact but also the agricultural related research that NBAF would house. It is lawmakers in Washington, particularly but not solely in the White House, who apparently aren’t convinced of the need to protect our nation’s food supply and protect our citizens from deadly pathogens. They must be made to understand that NBAF is an essential element of our national security and that ensuring funding for its construction should be a national priority.