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DHS awards contract for utilities plant at NBAF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The federal government has awarded a $40 million contract for building a utility plant at the site of a $1.15 billion animal research lab in northeast Kansas, a move that Kansas officials said is reassurance that plans for the lab are moving forward.

The Department of Homeland Security gave out the contract for the 87,000-square-foot plant Thursday, DHS spokeswoman Nicole Stickel said. The National Bio and Agro-Defense facility in Manhattan, Kan., is designed to replace an animal research lab at Plum Island, N.Y., and will focus on researching deadly animal diseases that affect livestock.

State officials have long promoted northeast Kansas as a potential site for the lab, seeing it as crucial to efforts to create a strong biosciences industry and create more than 300 well-paying jobs. The state has said it's committed to issuing up to $105 million in bonds to help with the project.

Funding for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility, however, has slowed in recent years because of tight federal funding sources and ongoing reviews of the laboratory's size, scope and risk.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, applauded the new contract as a "big step forward."

"In signing the contracts to proceed with construction of the NBAF's Central Utility Plant, DHS is confirming their commitment to moving forward with construction of the laboratory facility itself," Brownback said in a release.

New York U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Long Island, criticized the most recent step in a statement Friday, saying its "unwise to spend additional taxpayer dollars on a facility whose future remains in doubt."

"DHS has a mandate from the President to find cost-effective means to meet our nation's bio-and-agro security needs," he said.

Stickel said the new contract will use $40 million from fiscal year 2011 appropriations as well as matching funds from Kansas.

DHS said the utility plant, which will be next to the main lab, will house NBAF's heating and cooling systems and emergency power supply. The contract for building the utility plant went to a company that provided site preparation services for the project. Construction is expected to take more than more than two years.

"This was the next step we have all been waiting for and moves us further down the construction timeline," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a release about the new contract. "We will continue to work together to monitor each step in the process to ensure NBAF remains a top national security priority."