Rep. Tim Bishop introduced legislation Tuesday that would eliminate the requirement in federal law that Plum Island be sold at public auction to help pay for a new high-security animal research center being built in Kansas.
Joined by environmentalists and local officials at Orient Point, with the 840-acre island in the distance, Bishop (D-Southampton) said the legislation would decouple the Plum Island sale from the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility being built in Manhattan, Kan., at a price tag that now tops $1 billion.
The sale of the island, off the tip of the North Fork, was meant to help pay the costs of the new facility, which Department of Homeland Security officials said is necessary because Plum Island is outdated and can't be upgraded to a higher security level for research.
Bishop called the Kansas facility, in tornado country, a "bad idea."
"We don't want to couple that bad idea with a worse idea, which is the sale of Plum Island," he said.
Besides losing the 400 jobs currently at the Plum Island lab, environmentalists and local officials worry that Plum Island's sale could lead to its development. Speaking yesterday at the announcement, members of the environmental community applauded the legislation, called "Save, Not Sell Plum Island."
While General Services Administration spokesman Patrick Sclafani said it was premature to estimate what could be gotten at auction, an aide to Sen. Charles Schumer, a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said that an informal GSA estimate of land value pegged it between $50 million and $80 million, before any of the cleanup work has begun.
"There are many hurdles that have to be cleared before the Plum Island facility could be closed down, and we intend to fight at every one," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Bishop said that when the Kansas facility was first proposed under President George W. Bush's administration, "it was presented as a matter of being self-sustaining" -- proceeds from Plum Island's sale would match the costs of the new facility. The Kansas lab's cost at the time was $300 million to $400 million, he said.
Southold officials are in the process of passing zoning for the island that, if bought by a private entity, would restrict development of the area. Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said closing the Plum Island research facility doesn't make sense from a security or scientific sense right now.
"When we get done with the zoning, I guarantee you, it won't make financial sense," he said.
GSA spokesman Patrick Sclafani said the agency will follow the law as written.