Kansas picked for biodefense lab

WASHINGTON --

Kansas has won a three-year competition to land a new $450 million federal laboratory to study livestock diseases and some of the world's most dangerous biological threats. But some states that lost out are crying foul.

The Homeland Security Department's choice of a lab site at Kansas State University in Manhattan beat out rival bids from Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

While the choice won't become final until after a monthlong review period, officials in Mississippi and Texas - seeking a major boost to local economies - already are pondering a challenge to the decision.

"Let me just simply say that we're looking at (a challenge) very seriously because we do think we have the best site and we'll proceed accordingly," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry's spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said the state will "closely review the information and hard questions will be asked about the conclusions they've reached."

Kansas' new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would replace an aging 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, New York, where research is conducted on foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax. Foot-and-mouth disease 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.

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.

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 its economy.

A draft copy of Homeland Security's "Preferred Alternative Selection Memorandum" was obtained by The Associated Press. It concludes that the K-State campus site was chosen based on its proximity to existing biohazard research, strong community acceptance and a generous package of incentives offered by the state.

The language about being located close to other researchers frustrated Barbour.

"The bureaucrats who prepared the environmental impact study seemed to think that our partners in Iowa and Texas at and Tulane couldn't get on the airplane and fly over here and do work," he said.

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

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Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.


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