Hearing set on Plum Island lab closing, sale

Visitors gaze at the shoreline on Plum Island. Visitors gaze at the shoreline on Plum Island. (Oct. 6, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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The public will get a chance Thursday night to comment on the U.S. government's controversial plan to sell Plum Island after closing its animal disease laboratory.

The General Services Administration hearing will be at 6 p.m. at Greenport High School.

Despite opposition, the government plans to sell the 840-acre island off the North Fork to the highest bidder after the Department of Homeland Security opens a $1.14 billion laboratory in Manhattan, Kan. It would replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which employs about 200 people from Long Island and Connecticut.

In a draft environmental impact statement released this summer, the agencies said the island could be used for high-density development of as many as 750 homes. Most Long Island government and environmental leaders want to keep the lab open or, if it closes, keep the undeveloped part of island as open space.

Congress' funding for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas has been allocated incrementally as debate rages in Washington and in the scientific community about the wisdom of building a new lab in the center of the country's agricultural industry. As a result, the schedule has slipped from the initial 2014 completion date.

Homeland Security spokesman John Verrico said Wednesday that the agency this year received the first construction allocation to pay for building the $40 million central utility plant. The current schedule calls for the Kansas lab to open between 2019 and 2021, followed by one to two years of testing and certification of equipment before the Plum Island facility is then shut. Decommissioning and cleaning up the Plum Island lab would take another one to two years, Verrico said.

Connecticut politicians and environmentalists held a rally Wednesday in Old Saybrook to protest the closing of the lab and sale of the island before a GSA hearing Wednesday in that state. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and several other members of Congress released a letter they wrote to GSA stating "the environmental importance of Plum Island cannot be overstated . . ." It asked the agency to ensure that any buyer be required to protect "the significant environmental and historical aspects of Plum Island."

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