Congressman Bishop: Don’t lock up Plum Island just yet

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01/03/2013 4:52 PM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | A ferry on its way to New London passes near the Plum Island animal disease research lab.

Although Kansas officials paint a rosy picture on the progress of a planned billion-dollar animal disease research lab to replace Plum Island, Congressman Tim Bishop says that optimism is misplaced.

On Wednesday Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback joined members of that state’s congressional delegation in saying that the agreement by the City of Manhattan, Kansas, to transfer title to 46 acres to the Department of Homeland Security signals the federal government’s commitment to build the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facity (NBAF).

The governor’s statement is more about public relations than public policy, said Oliver Longwell, Congressman Bishop’s spokesman.

“It’s an effort to create a sense of inevitability about the construction in Kansas that does not exist,” Mr. Longwell said. “The future of that facility has yet to be determined.”

Mr. Bishop has long opposed closing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and replacing it with the Kansas lab, calling the proposed NBAF a unnecessary pork barrel project.

In its own risk assessment, the Department of Homeland Security said there’s close to a 70 percent chance of an accidental release of the foot-and-mouth disease virus during the NBAF’s anticipated 50 years of operation at that the resulting economic impacts on a facility in the heart of cattle country could reach $50 billion. The National Research Council, an advisory group affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences, has said the federal government has underestimated the risk.

Mr. Longwell noted that Congress has not funded the $1.14 billion project beyond an initial allocation of $90 million. President Obama is expected to release his spending outline for the next federal fiscal year in February, Mr. Longwell said.