Just-released study explores options for Plum Island

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Plum Island as seen from the east, with Orient point and the rest of Southold Town and other parts of the East End in the background.
TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Plum Island as seen from the east, with Orient point and the rest of Southold Town and other parts of the East End in the background.

A long-awaited study on the potential future uses of Plum Island was released by the federal General Services Administration this week.

The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the potential sale of the 840-acre island is available online at

The General Services Administration will be accepting comments on the document through Sept. 18.

In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring the sale of Plum Island and the relocation of the laboratory to a site in Manhattan, Kan.

But funding to begin construction of the Kansas project has been pulled from the federal budget for the past two years, putting the fate of the relocation in question as well.

The DEIS states that, “subject to the availability of funds,” the construction of the new lab is estimated to be completed in 2019, after which the work on Plum Island would transition to Kansas by 2021. During the interim period, the Department of Homeland Security will still budget for the maintenance of the Plum Island research program, the document reads.

The DEIS explored a “no action” scenario, in which the lab would be “mothballed” and the island would not be sold, as well as four “action alternative” options, including a low-density zoning option, similar to Fishers Island, in which about 90 residential units could be built on the island; a high-density option, which could accommodate up to 750 residential units; an option for the adaptive reuse of the lab buildings, and a conservation-preservation option.

The General Services Administration added the conservation option after it received public input at scoping sessions from conservationists who would like to see the island turned into a wildlife preserve, perhaps under the management of the National Fish & Wildlife Service.

Southold Town is planning to re-zone the island, putting the viability of the 750-unit option in question. In the DEIS, General Services states that “the future reuse of the property once it leaves federal ownership will be subject to local zoning, permitting requirements of state regulatory authorities, and review pursuant to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.”

The report also states that 24 of the 49 “superfund” contaminated waste sites on the island still need to be remediated.

“Under the Action Alternative, the federal government has an obligation under CERCLA [the superfund law] to protect human health and the environment by certifying the environmental condition of the property prior to transfer of title,” according to the report.

Plum Island is a federally operated animal disease research laboratory, at which they primary study foot and mouth disease, which affects cloven hooves. The island, which sits about two miles east of Orient Point, falls within Southold Town.

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Pick up next week’s Suffolk Times or Riverhead News-Review for more details on the report and local reaction.

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