The ongoing renovation of a federal animal disease testing facility in Ames got a big boost from the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tuesday. Ann Veneman came to Ames for the official groundbreaking for the renovation of the National Centers for Animal Health — and she brought with her a surprise 178-million dollar gift. That’s the amount of money needed to complete the renovation project. She says it has been a project that’s been needed in the wake of 9-11 and in the wake of the Mad Cow outbreak. She says people have realized how critical it is that we have the facilities to diagnose things like “B-S-E”, and to be able to respond to an outbreak of animal diseases. Veneman credited Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, and Congressman Tom Latham for pushing the administration to make the funding available for the project. Latham now represents the district that includes the facility. He says it’s been a lot of hard work to get the money — including fighting off those who called it “pork barrel” money for Iowa. He says this was done before the mad cow outbreak and it was a priority well before there was any kind of emergency. Latham says 178-million dollars “is a huge chunk in any appropriations bill.”Latham says getting the money in President Bush’s budget request is important to winning approval. He says once it’s in there, it’ll be written into the House and Senate appropriations bills and won’t have to be added on and called “pork.” Latham, a republican from Alexander, says that should give it broader political support. Veneman says the renovation will be put on the “fast track” so it can be completed by 2007. Latham says that’s no small feat. He says this is the largest public works project the U-S-D-A has ever attempted, which he says is why it has taken awhile to get done. But, he says the department is up to speed on the design and plan for the renovation, and that’s why it’s going to be done on time. Senator Harkin is a Democrat who’s been critical of the administration as he campaigns for his party prior to the Iowa Caucuses, but he put that aside at Tuesday’s announcement — heartily shaking hands with Latham and Veneman at the ceremony.The facility was used to identify the first case of mad cow disease in December. The National Centers for Animal Health combines several facilities into one — Including the National Animal Disease Center, National Veterinary Services Laboratory, and the Center for Veterinary Biologics. The entire renovation project will cost 460-million dollars. Phase one construction began in December of 2002.
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