Tester questions cost of moving agricultural disease research lab to ‘tornado alley’
Homeland Security chief says $1.1 billion needed to safeguard new facility
(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is calling into question the government’s plan to spend as much as $1 billion in taxpayer money to relocate an agricultural disease research lab from an island off New York to Kansas’ Tornado Alley.
The Homeland Security Department is planning to relocate the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to a site in Kansas near thousands of head of cattle that is frequently hit by dangerous tornadoes.
At a recent Senate hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Tester that reducing the risk of a disease outbreak and incorporating new security recommendations would increase the cost of moving the facility to approximately $1.1 billion – more than double some original estimates.
Tester says that due to the new cost estimate and the project’s uncertainty, the department needs to reconsider its plan to build the facility in Kansas.
“While I am encouraged DHS recognizes the additional steps required to significantly reduce the risk of an outbreak, I remain greatly concerned about the cost-effectiveness of investing additional taxpayer dollars into this facility,” Tester wrote Napolitano. “I believe that greater scrutiny needs to be placed on any future allocations of taxpayer dollars toward this facility.”
Tester also wants to know if Napolitano has considered upgrading the New York facility or moving the installation to an alternative location.
“What are the estimated costs of renovating the Plum Island Center to the operational and safety standards required?” Tester asked. “Are there any efforts underway by DHS to identify alternative sites for the proposed facility?”
Due to Tester’s long-standing concerns about moving the facility to Kansas, the Administration did not request any new construction funding in its recent budget while Homeland Security fully assesses the facility’s safety risks and associated costs.
“The cattle industry is grateful for Senator Tester’s persistence in preventing the Department of Homeland Security from unnecessarily exposing our U.S. cattle herd to an increased risk of foot-and-mouth disease, which would most certainly occur if the facility were moved to America’s Heartland in Kansas,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA – the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America.
Tester previously added language to 2009 legislation that required the National Academy of Sciences to study the Department of Homeland Security’s safety analysis and response plan in case of an accidental release of a contagious livestock disease at the facility.
The report estimated the probability of a disease outbreak from the proposed Kansas facility at nearly 70 percent over the next 50 years. It is available online HERE.
Tester’s letter to Napolitano appears below and online HERE.
April 10, 2012
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
I write to you regarding the proposed relocation of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) hazardous animal pathogen research facility from Plum Island, New York, to Manhattan, Kansas, and to seek clarification on the total costs of this proposal.
On numerous occasions, we have discussed my concerns that a release of Foot and Mouth Disease from this proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) could decimate the domestic livestock industry, do irreparable harm to the economy, and jeopardize a critical component of our nation’s food security. Because of the location of the proposed facility – in an area prone to severe tornadoes and in close proximity to a significant portion of our nation’s livestock industry – the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimated the likelihood of a Foot and Mouth Disease release at the facility to be nearly 70 percent over the next 50 years. Such a release would have an estimated economic impact of $9 billion - $50 billion. That is why I worked hard to restrict funding for construction of the proposed NBAF until DHS could provide reassurance that its risk assessments were accurate, and that the Department was proceeding in a manner that made sense for taxpayers and did not unnecessarily place our economy and livestock industry at risk.
As you know, DHS recently updated its site-specific risk assessment to account for the incorporation of several NAS recommendations that would lessen the likelihood of an outbreak at the facility to less than one-tenth of one percent over 50 years. While I am encouraged DHS recognizes the additional steps required to significantly reduce the risk of an outbreak at NBAF, I remain greatly concerned about the cost-effectiveness of investing additional taxpayer dollars into this facility.
During our most recent exchange on this topic, you estimated the new costs of the proposed NBAF at approximately $1.1 billion. Can you confirm that this estimate includes the costs of incorporating the recent NAS design recommendations? How much of these additional costs will be borne by the federal government, and how much will be borne by the State of Kansas? What reassurances can you provide that subsequent risk mitigation and additional costs will be required prior to completion of the NBAF facility in Manhattan? Conversely, what are the estimated costs of renovating the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to the operational and safety standards required by DHS to continue its research? Considering the new and substantial costs of the proposed NBAF in Manhattan, are there any efforts underway by DHS to identify alternative sites for the proposed facility? Are there any cost estimates for construction at these alternative sites? Can you provide reassurance that DHS will not take any additional steps until the NAS has reviewed the updated site-specific risk assessment for the proposed NBAF?
Like you, I remain committed to ensuring our nation is at the forefront of livestock animal health research, and I share your firm belief that we must do everything we can to prepare for and defend against devastating animal disease outbreaks. However, I remain concerned with the growing costs of the proposed NBAF in Manhattan and the uncertainty of future funding requirements to appropriately mitigate risk. I believe that greater scrutiny needs to be placed on any future allocations of taxpayer dollars toward this facility. That means assessing alternative sites that could provide the innovative research we seek in a manner that makes more sense for taxpayers and does not place our livestock industry or economy at risk.
I thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.