Governor announces agro-defense committee during Shawnee visit

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback visited Bayer HealthCare’s animal health division in Shawnee Friday to unveil a steering committee for construction of the state’s National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF).

Ian Spinks, president and general manager of Bayer’s North America animal health division, welcomed Brownback for the announcement. Afterward, he said the Governor approached Bayer about hosting the press conference because of the concentration of animal health companies in the region. Bayer has had an animal health division in Shawnee since 1963.

“This is an important project for us,” Spinks said.

Brownback estimated that upon completion of the NBAF — scheduled to be completed and certified by 2018 — the state would see an economic impact of up to $3.5 billion in its first 20 years.

“And I think that’s conservative,” he added.

The 15-member committee is led by Sen. Pat Roberts and includes several state government officials and leaders from the Kansas business and education sector.

In 2009, Manhattan was selected by the Department of Homeland Security to be the new location of the NBAF. The $450 million facility will be relocated from its Plum Island location off the coast of New York. It will be built on a site on Kansas Statue University adjacent to its Biosecurity Research Institute and will be the nation’s leading researcher of diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

It is expected that the facility will become operational during the construction process.

Perhaps no one was more passionate about the project than Roberts, who for the better part of a decade lobbied for the facility to be built in Kansas.

Roberts vowed to hold the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to its promise to build the NBAF in Kansas in a timely manner and quickly rebuked questions of whether the project was in danger due to the budget situation in Washington.

“This project is not dead; don’t say that,” Roberts said. “There is no alternative. We have the best site, the best location, the best way to do this and the best people to do it. And it’s for the safety of the American food supply. What other priority can you think of that’s more important than that?”

The state has committed $105 million in matching state funds to the project and $35 million toward research during the NBAF’s transition. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has invested more than $150 million toward designing the site and site-specific risk assessments.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama requested $150 million to begin construction of the facility next year, but the House halved that recommendation. The Senate has yet to make its recommendation on funding.

When asked about what effect the national government’s dispute over the debt ceiling had on the project, Brownback said it made the state more vigilant.

“These are difficult times,” he said.

But the point, Roberts added, is that the project concerns the country’s food security.

“There are some things where you can’t just say, ‘well we’re going to cut that out,’” Roberts said.

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