Some readers may still recall a time before the federal government took over large chunks of the Riley County area. First it was Tuttle Creek Dam, then Fort Riley expansion, and then Milford Dam sent families and towns packing.
Now another government project, a germ warfare lab, (the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, NBAF) is projected for Riley County. If built, it will have catastrophic consequences for the area. The science of defending against “high-consequence biological threats involving zoonotic (i.e. transmitted from animals to humans) and foreign animal diseases” is important. Even more important is placing such a facility where any outbreak or release can be isolated and contained. The lab does not need to be placed in the midst of the bio-agricultural industry to study and protect that industry. That would put the fox in the chicken house.
The severity of computer, accidental or other security breaches should not be underestimated. Such breaches are only a matter of time. The facility requires natural isolation, like an island or another remote area, at some distance from populations and travelers. It requires low risk that winds, birds, water or insects could disseminate pathogens. It requires low risk of natural disasters like tornadoes and placement away from primary water sources such as the Kansas River. It also requires placement away from the center of the country.
The public is not adequately informed of the dangers. The great flu pandemic of 1918 spread from Fort Riley. That flu, though less infectious than some current zoonotic diseases, spread worldwide and took more lives than World War I — and possibly all the wars of the 20t century combined.
Weighty decisions are made behind closed doors, and then Kansansš are simply told they are “winners.”
An updated price tag for NBAF puts it at over $1 billion. Kansans have already contributed millions to that total and will be on the hook for additional millions. More than the dollars, Kansans cannot afford the health risks of this facility. We are trying to get more people to come to Kansas, not avoid it like the plague. Would you want your son or daughter to attend the university where this lab is situated? Would you want your parent living in the senior housing next door? Would you want to raise livestock close to this lab? Would you want a member of your family working at this lab?
How are you going to find qualified scientists, let alone service staff, to work in this lab? And how much will we have to pay them? How much will you have to trust them? And how much will we all pay if our trust has been misplaced? Disposal technicians at NBAF could have more power than the president.
Could terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States come up with a better scheme than placing this germ warfare lab smack in the middle of the country? Time to cut bait. Tell the Department of Homeland Security to go fish in safer waters.
Carol J. Bahr Grieb, a former resident of Riley whose family’s farm was lost to Fort Riley expansion, now lives in Lawrence.