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NBAF’s future in limbo; officials disappointed

By Paul Harris

Manhattan’s commitment to the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility was in limbo after Monday’s unveiling of President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, which zeroed-out construction funds for the NBAF.

After Congress appropriated only $50 million of the $150 million requested for the project this fiscal year, Obama asked the Department of Homeland Security to reassess the project.

The decision raised questions about the status of the facility, which has been expected to begin operation in 2018. Gov. Sam Brownback alluded to the upcoming battle last week when he warned state legislators that he expected the fight for the NBAF to last another five years.

“Of course, we’re disappointed about this,” Mayor Jim Sherow said. “There’s no question about it.”

To make the NBAF a reality, the state has committed to issue up to $105 million in bonds, the city is contributing $5 million and the Kansas Bioscience Authority (KBA) is committed to $38.4 million.

That includes a substantial amount of money and effort already contributed to the project locally and by the state. The total bill for various state parties up to this point is $22.7 million: $2.3 million for the city, $5 million for the state, $12 million for Kansas State University and $3.4 million for the KBA.

The city has already completed preparation work on the site. Ron Fehr, city manager, said that includes relocation of a water main pipe that has been relocated around the site. He said that’s essentially been the case for all the utilities that were “in the way,” or that went through the site.

The city has also conducted a traffic analysis focusing on the Kimball and Denison intersection to identify what improvements might be needed to handle NBAF-related traffic.

Fehr said the city is ready to bid a sanitary sewer main that would serve NBAF and BRI on one dedicated line.

Construction has not yet begun on the central utility plant, which would be the first building for the NBAF site. But $80 million has already been secured for the building through state and federal funding.

The state issued $45 million in bonds to help finance construction of the plant and to clear away Kansas State’s grain mill.

The remaining $40 million for the central utility plant will come from the federal government once the updated site-specific risk assessment is completed. DHS is expected to have it finished this month.

Jeff Morris, KSU communications and marketing vice-president, said he didn’t know a timeline for the start of the central utility plant construction, but site preparation work is proceeding as usual. “There are a couple of things that have to happen for that, but we anticipate getting started soon,” he said.

The KBA used $3.4 million of its money to help Manhattan win the competition for the NBAF. The remaining $35 million would be spent to help transition research from Plum Island to NBAF.

Kansas State used $12 million of state money for site preparation and the relocation of the university’s large animal complexes on the NBAF site.

After all the work that’s been done, there’s a mixture of optimism and confusion for some locally concerning the latest developments.

Tom Manney, a long-time opponent of placing the NBAF in Manhattan, said he doesn’t know how to interpret Monday’s news. “There’s a general question in my mind about not being sure what this really means,” he said.

Manney, like local officials, pointed to Obama’s request for $10 million in the FY 2013 budget to bring projects to the Biosecurity Research Institute as an example of a commitment to bring research to Manhattan. That research would be focused on African Swine Fever and Classical Swine Fever research that has been going on at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the facility that the NBAF is replacing.

Sherow said it’s important for people to understand that a reassessment doesn’t mean the project is “going to be killed.”

“If you’re going to build a utility plant, aren’t you going to actually build the building down the line?” he commented.

Sherow is a local representative on the NBAF steering committee along with KSU President Kirk Schulz. The mayor said he hasn’t heard from Sen. Pat Roberts, the committee’s chair, about its next move.

Morris said the university will be relying on the state’s congressional delegation to help secure the project. “Our belief is there are funds in the pipeline right now,” he said. “As we move forward, we’ll see what happens.”

He said the university understands this is a process that will have various gives and takes. “The thing we’re convinced of is the nation needs NBAF and we’re the best place for it,” he said.

Manney believes the struggling economy is having more of an impact than during the competition to get the facility.

Local officials are counting on the NBAF to boost Manhattan’s economy. Manney calls those expectations unrealistic. “Quite frankly, people got ahead of themselves vocally and being optimistic about the whole process,” Manney said.

There is anticipation that the facility will become an economic engine for the community along with Ft. Riley and K-State. It is also expected to help K-State in its quest to become a top 50 public research university by 2025.

A report prepared by Impact DataSource, an economic consulting company in Austin, projected many points of economic impact including an estimated $817.3 million in revenues for state businesses during the five-year construction period.

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