MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The federal government’s plan to sell Plum Island, an animal disease research lab off eastern Long Island, and move operations to Kansas took another step closer to fruition Tuesday when the General Services Administration issued an environmental review recommending that the sale proceed.
The 512-page environmental impact statement said, “The preferred alternative — is the sale of the property out of federal ownership.”
The study, which included numerous maps and exhibits, did not identify any potential buyers for the 843-acre property located about 100 miles east of New York City. No estimate has been made on what the island could fetch when it is sold at auction to the highest bidder.
Several environmental groups in New York and Connecticut – the island sits in Long Island Sound between the two states – have repeatedly called for the island to remain in federal hands and turned into a nature preserve.
“Just keep it the way it is. Upgrade it. It’s a nice isolated island so that’s where it should be,” one man who lives within view of the island told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.
“I really don’t think Plum Island is conducive to development. It’s an island. You’ve got to get there by boat,” said another.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., described the study as “deeply disappointing and deficient.”
“It is flawed in failing to recommend measures to preserve open space on Plum Island,” he said in a statement. “I will support challenges, joining environmental advocates in seeking to protect this unique, priceless open space and natural treasure.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the New York-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said plans to sell the federal property should be abandoned.
“Selling it for a quick dollar after owning it for almost 200 years is equivalent to the feds getting 30 pieces of silver but betraying the public trust. It’s just not worth it,” she said.
Officials in the town of Southold on eastern Long Island, who will have zoning jurisdiction once the federal property is sold to a private owner, have indicated they plan to zone most of the property in a way that would preclude commercial development. Town Supervisor Scott Russell has said town officials hope some educational or research organization could be recruited to take ownership of the research laboratory, which is located on the western part of the island.
What’s left of a U.S. Army base that first operated during the Spanish-American War and closed in the early 1950s sits on the eastern part of the property. Gun batteries and parade grounds and barracks still remain more than a half-century later.
Congress voted in 2009 to close the aging lab on Plum Island and move operations to Kansas State University.
Some have questioned the wisdom of moving animal disease research to the so-called Beef Belt, although President Barack Obama’s latest budget includes $714 million for the project.
The GSA, which is overseeing the sale, has not done any studies to determine what the price might be for Plum Island. The current environmental impact statement will be available for public comment for 30 days, after which plans for the formal sale could proceed.
The latest estimate has the Kansas facility opening is 2018, although the project has been fraught with delays.
Despite speculation about what goes on there, scientists insist the island is safe. In recent years, hundreds of tons of medical waste, contaminated soil and other refuse were shipped off the island. Other island sites have been cleaned in compliance with federal regulations. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined in 2006 that no munitions or ordnance remain from the Army base. As late as 2007, New York government inspection reports said no environmental threat was on the island.
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