AP reports Flora losing biolab bid - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

Washington 12/03/08

AP reports Flora losing biolab bid

By SAM HANANEL/Associated Press Writer
Posted by Tom Wright - email

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional lawmakers and staff say the federal government will recommend a site in Kansas for a new $450 million laboratory to study biological threats like anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease.  The Mississippi town of Flora had hoped to host the facility.

The Department of Homeland Security's choice of Manhattan, Kan., beat out intense competition from other sites in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

Agency official revealed their decision to several lawmakers late Tuesday, according to lawmakers and staff familiar with the briefings. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement won't be made until later this week, when the agency releases an environmental impact statement.

The choice won't become final until sometime after a 30-day window period for comments on the decision, which could face legal challenges from losing states.

The new lab would replace an aging 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, about four miles off the eastern shore of Long Island, N.Y. Foot-and-mouth research has been confined to the island since 1955 to avoid an accidental outbreak that could lead to the slaughter of millions of livestock. The disease does not sicken humans.

Some farm groups have expressed concern about the risks of moving the lab to the U.S. mainland. The Bush administration acknowledged earlier this year that accidents have happened with the feared virus at the Plum Island facility.

But Homeland Security officials are convinced it can operate safely using the latest containment procedures. And Kansas officials are focused on the $3.5 billion economic infusion the lab could mean for the local economy.

The lab is expected to generate about 1,500 construction jobs and a permanent payroll of $25 million to $30 million for more than 300 employees once the project is completed by 2015.

The state mounted one of the most aggressive efforts to win the new lab, forming a special task force to lobby Homeland Security officials after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., promoted its economic potential.

The Kansas legislature approved $105 million in bonds to buy land, upgrade roads, install a security fence and build a utility plant at the site on the Kansas State University campus. Kansas State University already conducts similar research at its Biosecurity Research Institute, near the proposed site of the new lab.

Besides foot-and-mouth disease, researchers also would study African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses.

Other finalist sites were Flora, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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