Reaction mixed to Trump proposal for Plum Island

Real estate developer Donald Trump listens during a

Real estate developer Donald Trump listens during a news conference at the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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Donald Trump is gambling on another Long Island venture.

Following his failed quest to build on Jones Beach, he's trying to put a golf course on Plum Island.

The proposal has drawn mixed reviews, but Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said it would face a high hurdle. "It's so premature, even if he had a receptive audience -- which at this time I don't think he has," Russell said.

Trump said last week that he wants to transform what has been the home of a high-security government animal testing lab into a "really beautiful, world-class golf course," that would be "a low-key and beautiful use for the area."

The announcement followed months of private meetings involving Trump and his representatives, environmentalists and elected officials.

Russell said he had two or three conversations with Trump representatives about the island off Long Island's North Fork, which the federal government plans to sell before the lab's replacement opens in Kansas in 2019.

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With a sale, town leaders would control zoning of the roughly 840 acres, and Russell's not sure town leaders would change the zoning to accommodate such a use.

In August, the town board approved pre-emptive zoning that would prevent residential development on the island. It would allow laboratory research to take place on 125 acres where the Plum Island Animal Disease Center sits. But the balance of the island will be a conservation district. Only a nature preserve, public parks, museums at current historic structures and solar energy generators with special approval by Southold would be allowed.

A golf course would need special approval from the town Zoning Board of Appeals, or the town would have to change the zoning, Russell said.

"Let me assure you, as someone who crafted the zoning, it is not allowed," he said.

In an interview last week, Trump said he would pursue a purchase only if he had community support. He declined to estimate the value of his development or how much he'd pay for the island -- which the General Services Administration is expected to sell in an online auction in the next few years.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said in an interview that he met with Edward Russo, a representative for Trump, in September. Russo laid out Trump's plan to purchase the entire island, do the environmental cleanup, remove the lab and build a golf course.

Bishop said he'd like to see the Plum Island lab kept for scientific research; he'd like most of Plum Island to be kept as pristine as possible; and he wants to maintain the jobs there in some capacity.

"What I don't want is the GSA selling the island to the highest bidder," Bishop said. "I want a much more planned and comprehensive determination of what is best for the East End and Long Island."

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He doesn't have an opinion on the island's use as a golf course, his spokesman said.John Turner, a spokesman for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition -- made up of New York and Connecticut environmentalists -- said members of the group also met with a Trump representative.

Turner said that during a phone conversation in July, Trump described the plan as one 18-hole golf course on 150 acres with a "modest clubhouse."

There would be no overnight accommodations, he said.

In exchange, Turner said, Trump would offer an unspecified amount of "financial assistance" to restore and preserve the rest of the island, which environmentalists say has become an important wildlife habitat. The island is also expected to need significant environmental cleanup from years of government use, first as a military base and since 1954 as a center for animal testing.

Turner said the coalition of environmental groups still wants the island in federal hands, transferred to an agency such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife for a preserve.

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But he offered conditional support for Trump's idea. "If we get to the point where it's sold, that proposal is something we'd want to strongly consider," Turner said.

Richard Amper, president of the Pine Barrens Society, said a golf course there is "about as good an idea as taking over Jones Beach," referring to Trump's aborted plan for a $24 million catering hall that would have been called Trump on the Ocean. "Is he just looking at Long Island's natural treasures so he can trash them?"

But Trump has produced similar projects: Trump Golf lists 15 courses, including in Dubai, Scotland, Westchester and New Jersey.

Andy Binkowski, president of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, said Trump might be the ideal fit for the island.

"He's a pretty elaborate guy," Binkowski said. "This sounds like it would have to be a pretty elaborate project."

-- With Tom BrunePLUM ISLAND HISTORY

Home to the federal government's high security livestock disease testing lab since 1954.

The government is selling the island to defray the cost of a new lab being built in Kansas, which is set to open in 2019.

The 840-acre island, off the tip of the North Fork, is located in the Town of Southold and is zoned to prevent most development. Some residents are concerned development on Plum Island could destroy the pristine wildlife habitat.

State and federal officials are concerned about environmental contamination from solid waste coming out of the testing laboratories and into the groundwater on Plum Island, and about endangered species on the island.

-- Candice Ferrette

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