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A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security outlining alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder has come under criticism from environmental groups.

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01/07/15 2:00pm
01/07/2015 2:00 PM
 Plum Island (Credit: file)

Plum Island. (Credit: Times/Review, file)

An advocacy group is threatening a lawsuit against two federal agencies in the latest attempt to halt the public sale of Plum Island, claiming officials have failed to protect endangered species inhabiting the isle.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment, along with the Long Island version Save the Sound, issued notice Monday to the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration — the two agencies that oversee the island — of an intent to sue under violation of the Endangered Species Act.

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09/30/13 1:20pm
09/30/2013 1:20 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood at Orient Point State Park Monday urging the federal government to clean up Plum Island before it is sold.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling on the federal government to require a comprehensive environmental cleanup plan for Plum Island and to give the state final review of the Island’s conditions before it is put up for sale.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration hope to close the research laboratory at Plum Island and use the profits from the island’s sale to cover the cost of constructing a new, $1.1 billion animal disease research laboratory in Manhattan, Kan.

During a press conference at Orient Beach State Park Monday morning the governor said DHS and GSA have dismissed environmental concerns raised by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in its recently issued Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.

In 2010, the DEC identified a number of concerns related to landfills, buildings and other areas on the site and possible contamination of groundwater.

Subsequent DEC site inspections revealed the lab failed to properly manage and dispose of its solid waste and adhere to appropriate quality control and testing procedures for laboratory waste, Mr. Cuomo said.

In a letter dated Friday addressed to the DHS and GSA, the governor demanded the federal government conduct a full investigation on possible contamination issues that could potentially cause health, environmental and economic risks.

“Over the past three years, New York State has raised the issue of potentially serious environmental issues at the federal government’s Animal Disease Center on Plum Island that have not been fully addressed,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Before the sale of Plum Island can continue, Washington must step up and sign a legally binding consent order spelling out its full plan for cleaning up the Island and giving the State oversight authority to make sure the work has been done properly.”

Mr. Cuomo is not the only one who believes the federal government hasn’t done its due diligence. Other elected leaders have taken issue with the sale and taken steps to prevent development at the land after the government’s final environmental study suggested up to 500 homes could be built on the island.

Southold Town approved new zoning laws last month that would prevent any significant development of the island.

County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who spearheaded the zoning proposal when he was a member of the Town Board, said he supports Mr. Cuomo efforts.

“The Federal Government must be held accountable for environmental degradation that has occurred over the years and it is their responsibility to remediate; they should not be allowed to pass the buck,” Mr. Krupski said in a statement.

A GSA spokesperson previously said the agency is working with other agencies to address environmental concerns.

“Addressing all environmental concerns surrounding the sale of the island is a top priority for the federal government,” GSA spokeman Patrick Sclafani said in a prepared statement last month. “GSA and DHS will continue to work closely with [the Environmental Protection Agency], congressional and local officials to ensure all environmental concerns are reviewed and considered.”

The Governor’s letter can be viewed below.

Cuomo urges Plum Island environment study

03/20/13 10:00am
03/20/2013 10:00 AM
TIM KELLY PHOTO | Research work could continue on Plum Island's westernmost section under new zoning proposed by Southold's Planning Department.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | An aerial view of Plum Island.

Southold Town’s long-awaited plan to zone Plum Island could be ready for public comment in April. The town’s code committee had its last look at the proposed zoning March 14.

The island has never been under any zoning category because it has been in federal hands and is therefore not subject to local planning regulations. The proposed zoning would go into effect only if the federal government sells the 840-acre island, home to a national laboratory studying animal diseases.

The town’s action was prompted by the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to replace the Plum Island lab with a new $1 billion animal disease research facility in Manhattan, Kan.

Homeland Security took title to the 46-acre Kansas site in January and, in February, DHS and the State of Kansas awarded an $80 million contract to build a utility plant there. But Congress has yet to authorize any additional funding.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama will include the Kansas construction in his 2014 federal budget, which was due in early February but will not be released until early April.

The pending town plan would divide Plum Island into three zoning districts. The Plum Island Research District would encompass the existing lab and surrounding 175 acres, while the Plum Island Conservation District would encompass 600 undeveloped acres. The third zone, Marine II, would allow for improved access to the island at its existing ferry facilities. Improvements to ferry services would be granted by special exception permit from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Early drafts of the zoning proposal allowed renewable energy generation on the island — which could have included wind and tidal power. But because environmental groups raised concerns about the effect of other generation sources on birds and marine life, the latest draft allows only soloar energy generation. A solar energy permit would also require a special exception permit from the ZBA.

Members of the code committee said at their March 14 meeting that they hoped to revisit other renewable energy production on the island after the initial zoning is adopted.

The town’s planning department is currently completing a study to back up any zoning changes, said planning director Heather Lanza.

Ms. Lanza said an April public hearing could be set by the Town Board as soon as their March 26 meeting.

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01/05/13 2:05pm
01/05/2013 2:05 PM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | A bill pending in Washington would release $3.5 million to reroute the submarine electrical cable linking Orient (top) and Plum Island.

Is the Department of Homeland Security giving conflicting signals on its plans for the future of Plum Island? Congressman Tim Bishop thinks so.

On the one hand, the DHS has agreed to take title to 46 acres offered by the City of Manhattan, Kansas, the location of the proposed $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF). That center would replace the Plum Island animal disease research laboratory, at present the nation’s first line of defense against diseases that could threaten the domestic livestock industry.

During a press event last week the governor of Kansas and the state’s congressional delegation pointed to the transfer agreement as proof of the DHS’s committment to building NBAF.

But on Dec. 7 the White House, acting on a request from Homeland Security, requested a package of Sandy relief funding that includes $3,249,000 for Plum Island. The request, from the DHS’s science and technology bureau, is for “erosion control and repair work,” specifically, rerouting and retrenching the submbarine electrical power cable running from Orient Point, underneath Plum Gut to the island.

That cable provides the island with a backup source of power.

The two seemingly conflicting actions leaves the congressman shaking his head.

“If the department is looking to get rid of the island, why would it spend that amount of money on a backup system?” Oliver Longwell, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman said.

The Plum Island funding was included in the administration’s $60.4 billion Sandy relief bill recently approved by the Senate. Mr. Longwell said it’s unclear whether that appropriation will be included in the House version, which is to be taken up during the week of Jan. 14.

Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas recently said damage to Plum Island caused by Hurricane Sandy shows the need for the DHS to move quickly on a new research facility. But Mr. Longwell said the department’s congressional liaison reported the island suffered no significant storm-related damage.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, a member of the town’s emergency management team, said the report he received is that the hurricane caused some minor erosion where the cable makes landfall, but otherwise the island fared well.

Mr. Longwell said the congressman plans to press DHS officials for details.

“We’ve got to do some more digging on this,” he said

10/13/10 5:19pm
10/13/2010 5:19 PM

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO Lab 257 on Plum Island, visible at left, was built as a storage facility during World War I and later was used for foot-and-mouth disease studies. It was vacated and mothballed in the mid-1990s.

The clock is ticking on the future of Plum Island, and environmental advocates have banded together to fight to preserve the 840-acre property.
The island, just east of Orient Point, has been the site of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center since 1954, though work there has been overseen by the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. The federal government last year announced plans to sell the island and build a more high-tech animal disease research facility in Kansas.
Last Wednesday, Oct. 6, the Department of Homeland Security gave a tour of the island to a group of environmentalists.
The tour was conducted for the Long Island Sound Study Group, a cooperative effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the states of New York and Connecticut, which has named Plum Island a significant estuary. Also on the tour were members of Preserve Plum Island, a Long Island-based coalition of 36 environmental groups ranging from local groups to the international Wildlife Conservation Society.
Preserve Plum Island is asking the Department of Homeland Security to transfer the wild portion of the island to the Fish and Wildlife Service as a nature preserve.
It wouldn’t be the only preserve in the area, which is an important flyway for at least 100 species of migrating birds. Great Gull Island, just to the east of Plum Island, is a bird sanctuary and a tern study area run by the American Museum of Natural History. Another small rocky outcropping known as The Ruins, once part of Gardiners Island, was given to the Fish and Wildlife Service last year.
“I think they’re interested. They’re in the area,” said Nature Conservancy policy advisor Randy Parsons of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Mr. Parsons was on the tour last Wednesday.
He said that The Nature Conservancy is pushing the federal government to complete a four-season biological inventory of the plants and animals on the island before the sale can be completed. The U.S. General Services Administration, the agency responsible for the sale of the island, is in the process of compiling a draft environmental impact statement detailing environmental issues that must be addressed before the sale. The EIS was initially expected to be complete this month but has been delayed until later this fall.
Environmental contamination on the island is a potential stumbling block for the sale. Mr. Parsons said that the U.S. General Accounting Office has documented several dozen toxic contamination sites on the island and has estimated the clean-up costs at as much as $190 million.
“There is definitely the feeling that the federal government shouldn’t be trying to market this thing. They should be cleaning up the mess and restore the island to its pre-U.S. government condition,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of this would have come to light if they weren’t going to sell it.”
Stella Miller, president of the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society and a founder of Preserve Plum Island, was also on Wednesday’s tour. She said she was particularly impressed by a visit to a rocky outcropping on the island where 50 seals were hauled out on the rocks. She said that as many as 300 seals haul out at Plum Island at one time.
“Birds travel thousands of miles during migration and spots like Plum Island are necessary for their survival,” she said.
She said that tour participants were given an overview of work done on the island but that her tour guides were not interested in discussing the future of the facility, despite the fact that the visit was widely described in the media as a real estate open house.
“They didn’t go there,” she said. “They stayed neutral.”
GSA representative Paula Santangelo also remained stoic in her agency’s position on the future of the island.
“While the EIS will present several re-use scenarios, GSA doesn’t advocate any particular reuse,” she said Friday.
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