County wants help on NBAF

By Stephanie Casanova

Riley County is seeking financial help from the federal government for local expenses related to the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

Clancy Holeman, Riley County counselor, presented commissioners Thursday with a draft of a letter asking for the Kansas congressional delegation’s help in obtaining federal funding for local expenses that will benefit NBAF, a federal research lab under construction at the northeast edge of K-State’s campus.

The draft reads, in part, “NBAF’s national mission cannot be carried out without significant costs to the local citizens of Riley County and the City of Manhattan.”

The letter is addressed to Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Reps. Roger Marshall, Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder.

The draft says Riley County taxpayer money will be required to maintain local roads. NBAF also will depend on local first responders in the case of an emergency, which “has required and will continue to require specialized training for local emergency responders.”

“It is very likely local government will be required to add staff to carry out these specialized services for NBAF,” the letter says.

The letter also says the county’s emergency radio system requires a $9 million upgrade. Discussions about an upgrade to the county radio system started more than a decade ago because of a federal mandate that affected the range of radio signal.

“I’m not trying to claim that the whole reason this is being done is because of NBAF, but it’s fair to say it’s going to serve NBAF in an important way if emergency responders can have that interoperability in the communication system,” Holeman said.

Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez said a real catastrophic emergency would affect surrounding counties, not just Riley County, and suggested the commission talk to commissioners in Geary, Pottowatomie, Clay and Marshall counties and include them in the letter. Commission chairman Ron Wells suggested sending letter to open the conversation before taking too much time talking to area leaders. Commissioner Ben Wilson asked how important the timing of the letter is and wondered whether the county should send a letter now and a second letter with other counties and the city at a later date.

“We need to open the door, and this is sized to where they could read it in its entirety,” Wells said. The commissioners did agree that Holeman should send the letter to Manhattan city manager Ron Fehr. Holeman said he would present a more polished letter to commissioners during their meeting March 23.

Before asking for the congressional delegates’ assistance, the letter says, “Without federal participation in sharing some of those NBAF costs, our local taxpayers will bear alone a disproportionate share of the expenses necessary to operate a national facility which will be of significant benefit to the entire U.S. population.”

About 200 people are currently working on the construction, but that number will grow to as many as 1,000.The lab will employ about 400 people in Manhattan once it begins operating in 2023.

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