The site of a proposed facility to fight animal diseases, including those which could be spread by bioterrorists, is little more than a parking lot today because of safety and budget concerns.
Construction of an ambitious National Bio and Agro-Defense Center in this Kansas university town is on hold due to the federal budget crunch and concerns about risks to livestock and human populations, especially in the event of natural disaster.
"When we were named as the site, I thought the battle was over and it was just a matter of moving ahead," said Ron Trewyn, who has shepherded the project along as vice president for research at Kansas State University.
Now, more than a decade after the September 11, 2001, attacks raised fears of bioterrorism on U.S. soil, an armed guard and steel perimeter fence protect idle equipment in the parking lot and a few utility sheds at the stalled construction site.
Further construction on what may or may not be the future home of America's primary facility for fighting dangerous animal diseases awaits two National Research Council reports due in late June on health and safety risks posed by the plant.
Those reports may determine the fate of the $1 billion project. One report will analyze the risks of the plant as currently designed, and the other will look at scaling back the project or scrapping it altogether.
Stop-and-go funding decisions by Congress, partisan gridlock in Washington and politicians with local interests in mind have also helped keep the project in limbo.
Three years ago, the Department of Homeland Security awarded the facility to Manhattan because it was in the U.S. agricultural heartland and the university had one of the nation's leading veterinary research programs.
The idea was to give the United States a sophisticated research center - joining only two others in Australia and Canada - to study and treat diseases in animals, either spread naturally, by accident or with malicious intent.
"Should an outbreak take place amidst our livestock, the devastation to our nation's agriculture - the backbone of our nation's economy - would be pandemic," U.S. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas said at a meeting last week in Kansas of a steering committee set up to advocate for the project.
Animal illnesses studied at the facility would include the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease as well as the Nepha and Hendra viruses, swine fever and the Japanese encephalitis virus. The United States has not had a outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929.