DHS cuts Plum Island, narrows NBAF finalists
Washington - Plum Island Animal Disease Center will not host the proposed $450 million, 400-employee National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF), government officials announced last month.
WASHINGTON — Plum Island Animal Disease Center will not host the proposed $450 million, 400-employee National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF), government officials announced last month.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commits to spending $35 million in three years to update Plum Island's level-3 labs, plans for the new level-4 facility likely will go to one of 14 finalists jockeying for the project.
At least nine veterinary institutions made the agency's first round of cuts (see sidebar). Yet Iowa State University, which already hosts an extensive laboratory network with the United States Department of Agriculture, Kansas State University, Tuskegee University and University of Florida fell out of the running.
Still in the running
NBAF will rival the aging Plum Island facility in New York with a 500,000-square-foot lab to be built on at least 30 acres. Project watchdogs contend the facility, scheduled for completion in 2010, will trigger a huge economic boost, bringing roughly $3.5 billion to the table in 20 years.
While the current plan is that NBAF eventually will assume Plum Island's work, government officials aren't sure the site will close. In the meantime, improvements will be made to Plum Island's water, electric and wastewater decontamination systems as well as the addition of a new animal wing. The facility remains the only laboratory in the nation authorized to house foot and mouth disease.
That might change with the completion of NBAF, a next-generation biological and agricultural defense facility designed to enhance and protect the country's agriculture and public health. DHS plans to equip the NBAF with numerous laboratories that will conduct research in high-consequence biological threats involving foreign animal, zoonotic and human diseases. DHS also seeks to house laboratories that will provide high-security spaces for agricultural and animal studies and training as well as develop vaccine countermeasures for foreign animal diseases.
The enormity of the state-of-the-art facility results in stiff competition, insiders say. NBAF bidders range in size from consortiums of private and public universities to governments. According to DHS documents, North Carolina State University's veterinary college appears to be the only DVM program to lead a bid, yet Texas A&M University, Kansas State University, University of Wisconsin and University of Tennessee (UT) represent veterinary institutions that have teamed up with regional allies to promote their assets. Dr. Michael Blackwell, dean of UT's veterinary program, has partnered with the University of Kentucky and backs a site roughly two hours north of the institution's Knoxville campus.
"We're certainly excited," he says. "We hope to engage in research that would be on the front end of this. We'll seek to be as involved as we can and hope to have some of our scientists working within that facility. There will be opportunities to grow our research efforts."