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Omnibus bill includes $219 million for McConnell AFB, $404 million for biodefense lab

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, at 10:15 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 26, 2014, at 11:38 a.m.

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A $1 trillion federal appropriations measure filed this week will include a significant chunk of money for projects in Kansas.

The omnibus spending bill includes $219 million for construction at Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base to prepare for the scheduled arrival of the new KC-46A refueling tankers and $404 million for construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said.

The bill, filed Monday night, is expected to be voted on Wednesday in the House and by Friday in the Senate, said Moran, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee

The spending at McConnell is the same figure that was projected in June, a month after the base was tentatively selected by the Air Force to receive 36 new tankers in 2016. Final approval is expected to come this spring after a federally mandated environmental impact statement is completed.

“This is one more step in confirming that the KC-46A tankers will be based at McConnell,” Moran said in an interview with The Eagle.

Most of the money, $194 million, will be spent to build three hangars to accommodate the new tankers. The additional money is for a dormitory to house students training to fly the tanker, a simulator, parking for the tanker and some infrastructure work, Moran said.

Much of that construction is expected to be provided by local contractors, giving a boost to the local economy.

The 1,582-page omnibus bill was hammered out over the past month as part of bipartisan negotiations between the House and Senate appropriations committees. The bill covers 12 areas of government, including defense spending.

The strong bipartisan support means the bill, which can’t be amended, is expected to move smoothly through Congress. President Obama’s signature on the bill “is not expected to be a problem,” Moran said.

Boeing has a $35 billion contract to build 179 of the new tankers, which are replacing the KC-135 tankers built in the 1950s. McConnell is one of three bases in the country selected to receive some of the initial 56 tankers.

The omnibus bill also includes $1.6 billion to develop more tankers, an indication that the Air Force is committed to following through with its plans, Moran said.

As for the NBAF, news that the $404 million is included in the bill brings a sigh of relief for Kansas after the project’s funding was held up by critics and some members of Congress.

The $1.2 billion federal state-of-the-art lab will be built adjacent to Kansas State University to do research to protect the nation’s livestock from extremely toxic, animal-borne diseases.

Construction of the central 85,000-square-foot utility plant began almost a year ago. The $404 million pays for the lab.

“This is very positive,” said Ron Trewyn, vice president for research at K-State. “We’ve been expecting this funding, but you never know. So, yes, this is a big deal.

“And it’s a good thing that both the House and Senate agreed on the same number.”

The federal funding also would mean Kansas would release $202 million for the project that it had previously authorized.

If the bill receives final approval, construction of the lab will begin this year. The building is already two years behind schedule and twice as expensive as originally proposed.

The NBAF is designed to replace the aging federal biolab in Plum Island, N.Y., a facility that was built in the 1950s. New York congressional members have argued that the money should be spent to upgrade Plum Island.

“For those who have questioned whether NBAF will be built in Kansas, the passage of this funding bill will provide a clear answer: yes,” Moran said in a statement. “This investment means Kansas will become a research epicenter.”

Gov. Sam Brownback, who lobbied for the NBAF to be in Kansas when he was a U.S. senator, agreed that the bill signals the project is on track to be built in Manhattan.

The project is a collaboration between two federal departments, agriculture and homeland security. Manhattan was chosen for the 500,000-square-foot facility in 2008, after a three-year site selection process.

Preliminary work began in 2010, and an official groundbreaking was held last year. A purple sign proclaiming “Future Home of NBAF” is near the site.

When the facility will be completed is a little sketchy.

Homeland Security’s website says the date hasn’t been determined. But an integrated timeline provided by the department during a recent presentation showed the lab would be finished in December 2019 and the transition from Plum Island to Manhattan would be completed in August 2022.

A January 2012 economic impact statement report found the NBAF will employ approximately 326 permanent employees and support 757 construction jobs.

It’s expected to have a $3.5 billion economic impact on Kansas in the first 20 years.

The state would pick up another $17 million in the appropriations bill to build a simulation center at Fort Leavenworth. The 37,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed in 2016.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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