HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The federal government is shutting down the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located on Long Island Sound. Now the debate over what to do with the space.

WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau On The Story

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Public sentiment is strong for preserving the 840 acres as open space and word that the feds want to sell all or part of it for development is not sitting well.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says protecting the seals, whales, birds, turtles, and other wildlife could be done by turning the island over to a conservancy, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The federal government should recognize the environmental significance of this island, which is worth far more than the money they’re likely to realize from any sales for development,” Blumenthal told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.

“It makes no sense,” Connecticut St. Sen. Andrea Stillman said of the sale at a public hearing on Wednesday in Old Saybrook to review a draft environmental impact statement examining possible uses for the island.

“The common sense solution to this is to leave it alone,” she said. “What we have on that island now is an extraordinary research facility and an extraordinary wildlife habitat that live together.”

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Moshe Gai, a physics professor at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton, said it would be foolish to sell Plum Island for private development. It should instead be combined into a national park with other islands in eastern Long Island Sound.

“What are you going to do? Sell America?” Gai. “This is ours. We own it.”

The federal General Services Administration, which is selling the property with the Department of Homeland Security, may not be able to reconcile two federal laws, Blumenthal said. Congress required the sale in 2009 if the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research facility closes and it enacted a bill in 2006 that established Plum Island as one of 33 “stewardship sites” in Long Island Sound that should be preserved.

The research facility on the island will be relocated to Kansas and its the phasing out is expected to take another ten years.

Another hearing is planned for tonight at the high school in Greenport, Long Island.

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