Report: Plum Island conservation now being considered

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Plum Island could be considered for conservation, according to a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The federal government’s long-awaited environmental report on the potential sale of Plum Island is slated to be released this winter, amidst several positive developments for advocates of preservation of the island off the coast of Southold Town.

A “Conservation Option” has been added to the list of potential future uses for the island in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, members of the federal General Services Administration told a group of community members who attended a forum at Plum Island Oct. 14.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said GSA officials added the option after a substantial number of the 200+ comments received from the public on the proposal called for conservation of the island or the adaptive reuse of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility(NBAF), the animal disease research lab there now.

“I think the inclusion of this alternative is a small but positive step that certainly legitimizes further public discussion of this future use alternative when the document is released,” said Mr. DeLuca in a status report he sent to Plum Island stakeholders this week.

Mr. DeLuca said the other options the GSA will consider include another lab or technical facility and low density and high density residential development.

The environmental report is slated to be released at the end of this year, but meanwhile, a fight has erupted in cattle country over the potential relocation of the Plum Island laboratory to the middle of cattle country in Manhattan, Kansas, where the escape of animal pathogens from the laboratory could prove disastrous for America’s food security.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana has been pushing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to keep the lab at Plum Island for safety reasons since June, according to a report in the Billings Gazette.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund has also been pressuring the federal government to rethink the relocation of the lab.

The group is lobbying for the inclusion of a prohibition against relocating the laboratory to Kansas in the 2012 Farm Bill currently under consideration in Congress.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is in favor of relocating the lab to his state.

President Barack Obama included $150 million of the $650 million necessary to build the Kansas lab in his 2012 budget, but that support is contingent on a site-specific risk assessment report that has not yet been released.

Mr. DeLuca said that at the Oct. 14 meeting, “GSA acknowledged the ongoing uncertainty of using Manhattan, Kansas as the preferred site for the new NBAF (in light of presently unresolved safety and security issues raised by the GAO and National Resource Council)…. GSA points out, however, that they are still following a congressional directive to prepare the island for sale until otherwise directed.”

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