Enviro group blasts Plum Island report; Greenport hearing Thursday

TIM KELLY PHOTO | The main animal disease research lab on Plum Island.

The environmental study prepared in the event the federal government sells Plum Island, currently home to a foreign animal disease research facility just off the tip of the North Fork, fails to consider the conservation of the hundreds of undeveloped acres and also fails to assess potential health risks posed by the laboratory and other past uses, an advisory group has charged.

The criticism comes from the Citizens Advisory Committe, which provides local input on the federal Long Island Sound Study, an effort to protect that waterway similar to the Peconic Estuary Program. The group’s comments are in reaction to a draft environmental impact statement prepared by the federal General Services Administration (GSA)on the sale of island, which if completed would raise funds toward the construction of a $1 billion replacement laboratory in Kansas. Congress has yet to fund that project.

Residents can weigh in on the GSA report at a Thursday evening public hearing in the Greenport High School auditorium. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m., though the doors will open and GSA representatives will be on hand beginning at 5 p.m.

In its response to the findings, the citizens committee said, “Despite the chorus of governmental and community voices, the [environmental impact statement] failed to include any alternative that would result in the convervation sale of the undeveloped portion of the island.”

Rather than conduct new research, it appears the GSA simply relied on past reports, the group said, adding that it’s “deeply disappointed” that the agency failed to file a complete assessment.

Regarding the potential impacts of the animal disease lab at the island’s western end and the remains of a World War I-era Army base to the east, the group said the study failed to describe the status of 24 indentified Superfund contamination sites, including one known pertoleum spill.

The GSA study focuses on the environmental impacts of five potential scenarios for Plum Island: low-density or high-density residential use; adapting and reusing the USDA’s animal disease laboratory on the island; mothballing the lab and not selling the island; or  conservation and preservation.

The study makes clear that potential future uses of the island must adhere to local zoning requirements. Since the property is federally owned, it is not covered by local zoning. The town’s Planning Department recently suggested two new zoning categories specific to the island that would allow research to continue on the western end and land conservation on the rest.