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

08/30/13 1:00pm
08/30/2013 1:00 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The federal government is pushing forward with plans to move the research facility on Plum Island to Kansas State University.

The federal government is pushing forward with plans to auction Plum Island to the highest bidder, despite repeated concerns raised by lawmakers and environmental groups that there is not enough information to support the sale.

The General Services Administration and Department of Homeland Security issued its “record of decision” last Thursday night. The recommendation is one of the last steps before the property is put to auction.

The agencies 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. A facility at Kansas State University is necessary in order to study zoonotic diseases — illnesses that can be transferred from animals to people, said Homeland Security spokesman John Verrico.

The existing Plum Island lab does not have the capacity to study those types of diseases, Mr. Verrico said.

Additionally, Homeland Security wants to locate the research facility closer to veterinary schools and livestock, so samples can be received and processed faster, he said.

Meanwhile, elected leaders have taken issue with the the sale and taken steps to prevent development at the land.

Last month, Congressman Tim Bishop (D- Southampton) introduced “Save, don’t sell Plum Island,” a bill designed to overturn the 2008 congressional mandate for the federal government to sell the island.

Meanwhile, Southold Town approved new zoning laws Tuesday that would prevent any significant development of the island.

The record of decision comes two months after the General Services Administration released is final environmental study that suggested up to 500 homes could be built on the island.

The study had environmental groups up in arms, pointing to several holes in the document, including citing the discovery of mammoth bones on the island that were later found to be discovered on Plum Island, Mass., not New York.

The General Services Administration and Homeland Security issued a joint statement saying the agencies issued the record of decision after considering “all the factors discovered and analyzed” during the National Environmental Policy Act process.

Mr. Verrico said there is no estimate of what the 840-acre island could fetch at auction, but said the sale was at least five years away.

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07/01/13 8:00am
07/01/2013 8:00 AM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | The Orient Point Lighthouse in Plum Gut is once again being auctioned off by the federal General Services Administration.

Orient Point Lighthouse is on the auction block … again.

Following a failed attempted by the U.S. General Service Agency to sell the historic lighthouse last year the department has once again opened the property for bidding.

Built in 1899, the cast iron lighthouse, also known as the “Coffee Pot” lighthouse, is located just off the tip of the North Fork in Plum Gut. The building stands 45 feet tall and boasts three stories of living quarters and two watch decks, according to the GSA listing.

The agency first attempted to auction off the lighthouse last summer, with plans to sell the property to the highest bidder within two months. The closing date was later postponed to September of that year. Despite the extended deadline, the auction did not result in a sale.

“It’s not uncommon,” said GSA spokesman Patrick Sclafani. “People say, ‘Wow. I can buy a lighthouse!’ But once they inspect it, they realize they may not have the resources to maintain the property.”

Such was the case with the East End Seaport Museum, which was considering purchasing the lighthouse before determining it did not have the financial resources to back the deal.

Nine parties bid in last year’s Orient Point Lighthouse auction, with the highest bid coming in at $100,000.

Comparatively, the offer was well below the sale price of Little Gull Island, which sold for $381,000 last October. Connecticut resident and businessman Fred Plumb bought the one-acre island in the Long Island Sound, which is one of home to an historic lighthouse. Mr. Plumb has yet to announce plans for the property.

The second round of bidding on the Orient Point Lighthouse opened on June 1. So far the highest bid is $10,000, according to GovSales.com. Bids are being accepted in $5,000 increments.

Under the National Lighthouse Preservation Act, the would-be-owners would not be permitted to tear down or make any major changes to the structure. They would also be required to allow the U.S. Coast Guard access to maintain the light.

“Our hope is that if a private owner gets it, they will reach out to conservation groups and maintain it the right way,” Mr. Sclafani said.

The GSA has not yet set a closing date for the bidding.

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06/26/13 1:36pm
06/26/2013 1:36 PM

Sell Plum Island to a private party.

That is the final federal recommendation from the U.S. General Service Administration, which is handling the sale of the  federally owned island.

The conclusion is based on the results of an environmental impact study released Tuesday that stated the sale would not negatively impact the environment.

The study outlines three development options. From Southold Town’s and environmentalists’ perspective, the most objectionable would be to sell the land to private investors for the construction of up to 500 homes.

The town is working on zoning to prevent any residential or commercial development on the 840-acre island just off the tip of Orient Point.

The other two options mentioned in the EIS are for a buyer to convert the island’s animal disease research lab into a private research or business center or to use the land as a nature preserve.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he supports the island’s conservation and plans to introduce a bill to eliminate the requirement in current law that Plum Island be sold as part of an effort to raise funds for a new $1 billion facility in Manhattan, Kansas.

“I join Southold Town and its residents and other stakeholders in strongly opposing the sale of Plum Island,” Mr. Bishop said in a statement. “The final Plum Island environmental impact statement shows that the island’s unique natural and historic resources are ideally suited for adaptive re-use of the current facility for research and preservation of the undeveloped areas, which has already been identified in Southold Town’s proposed zoning code as the community’s preference if the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center is eventually closed.”

Since the island is federally owned it is not currently subject to local planning regulations. Southold began working on island-specific zoning regulations as a precautionary measure to prevent the construction of condos, “McMansions” or even a casino if the island is sold.

The proposed zoning regulations would divide Plum Island into three districts.

The Plum Island Research District would encompass the existing lab and surrounding 175 acres. About 600 undeveloped acres would be covered by the Plum Island Conservation District, and a Marine District would encompass the existing ferry facilities.

The Save the Sound organization called the final federal impact statement “fundamentally flawed.”

The GSA “has failed to adequately address concerns raised by the public after the draft environmental impact study was released and dismissed the data and information about conservation alternatives,” said Leah Schmalz, the group’s director of legislative and legal affairs. “The GSA has chosen to ignore those interests and to focus solely on putting Plum Island’s natural resources on the auction block.”

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10/16/12 2:00pm
10/16/2012 2:00 PM

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.