Editorial: Preserving Plum Island must remain a priority

We argued in this space nearly six years ago that it was a bad idea to close the Animal Disease Research Center on Plum Island in favor of building a new facility in Manhattan, Kan. Relocating the infectious-disease laboratory to the middle of cattle country near Kansas State University and its 24,000 students made little sense. 

We lost that argument, but a critical fight over Plum Island continues.

This much is certain: Plans for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas are moving forward; the facility is set to become operational in 2022. The future of Plum Island itself, however, remains in limbo.

So it was welcome news last week when U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Senate Committee on Appropriations to prevent Plum Island from being sold to the highest bidder. (The federal government owns the 840-acre island and plans to sell it as part of a 2008 law authorizing the construction of the Kansas facility.)

The federal government would receive an estimated $32.85 million from the sale, which the senators said would be used to construct the new facility. But that’s just pocket change compared to the estimated $1.25 billion the facility will ultimately cost.

Simply put, the government can do without the money selling Plum Island would generate.

Instead, Mr. Schumer and Ms. Gillibrand are arguing that Plum Island be transferred to a federal agency like the National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Either agency, they said, would work to preserve the island and its habitat, and fears of private development would be put to rest. It’s a sound idea, one Mr. Schumer first suggested last summer.

In recent years, officials at nearly every level of government — from Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Legislator Al Krupski to the senators and U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin — have pushed to preserve Plum Island. That might also occur if it’s sold to New York State or a nonprofit. For now, though, creating a national park there — which both senators support — may be the best option.