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Plum Island: Bishop can’t stop funding for Kansas lab

SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop was thwarted Friday in his attempt to halt funding for a new National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas to replace the laboratory that is currently housed on Plum Island.
SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop was thwarted Friday in his attempt to halt funding for a new National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas to replace the laboratory that is currently housed on Plum Island.

Congressman Tim Bishop was thwarted in his attempt Friday to halt funding for a new national biological and agricultural defense facility in Manhattan, Kansas to replace the Plum Island laboratory animal disease research center.

Mr. Bishop introduced an amendment Friday night to bar funding for the lab in this fiscal year. Just days earlier, President Barack Obama released a 2012 budget that includes $150 million for the Kansas lab’s construction.

The congressman said his amendment failed “largely along party lines” in the 269-159 vote.

“Before approving funding … my colleagues wanted to know if it was safe to study the worst animal diseases in the heart of cattle country,” the congressman said. “ We have our answer: there are too many risks — with consequences too great — to justify the costs of construction at this time, and I will keep up the fight.”

But on the floor of the House Friday night, Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, a Republican whose district would include the new facility, asked her colleagues to support the project. Various sources estimate the cost at $650 million to $1 billion.

“Simply put, this debate should be about our national security, not local politics,” the congresswoman said. ”In this age of uncertainty and global threats, conducting vital research to protect our nation could not be more crucial. And the truth of the matter is we are dangerously under-protected from the threat of a biological attack against our people and our food.”

Plum Island, which currently conducts most of the nation’s agro-defense research, particularly on livestock diseases, is only a biosafety level 3 facility. The new lab would be a biosafety level 4 facility. The difference between the two levels is that a level 4 lab is cleared to study pathogens that can be fatal to humans.

The federal government is planning to sell Plum Island to offset the cost of the new lab. Southold officials have repeatedly said they plan to rezone the 840-acre island to prohibit uses other than that of a research center.

Mr. Bishop vowed Friday to continue to try to stop funding for the Kansas facility.

“Given our nation’s mounting budget deficits, we should not invest one more dollar of taxpayer money — and up to $1 billion — to create a massive new research facility that would duplicate many of the functions currently served well by other existing facilities, including Plum Island,” Mr. Bishop said.

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For more on Plum Island:

Editorial: Keep Plum Island, forget Kansas Lab

Tour takes in Plum Island’s beauty

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