Local officials, environmentalists and residents Thursday night criticized the federal government's plan to sell Plum Island, saying at a public hearing that the draft environmental impact statement grossly understates the negative implications.
About 50 people attended the hearing at Greenport High School to oppose the plan by the General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder after the federal animal disease lab there closes sometime after 2021.
John Kelly of the GSA said the agency has no authority to control the future use or put restrictions on use of the property when it is sold, as required by Congress, about two years after a new lab opens in Kansas.
But Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town supports only one option: "to leave Plum Island as Plum Island."
Russell said the high-density development of up to 750 homes considered in the plan would create huge traffic problems in Orient. If the island cannot remain a research facility, he said it should be transferred to another federal agency, possibly to the Department of Energy as a wind-energy facility.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the impact statement "woefully and remarkably deficient." She said it failed to address the effect of development on wildlife habitat and groundwater.
Ted Scherff, of Audubon New York, said Plum Island stands out as a critically important migratory bird habitat. The information in the impact statement was outdated and "doesn't go far enough" to protect significant species, he said.
Robert Hanlon, of Orient, said traffic impact would be "intense," on top of already heavy ferry traffic caused by the New London ferry.
GSA will accept public comments on the draft report through next Friday online at www.plumislandny.com. The final environmental impact statement is expected to be released this winter.
The Department of Homeland Security plans to open a $1.14 billion laboratory in Manhattan, Kan., to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which employs about 200 people from Long Island and Connecticut.
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 middle of the country. As a result, the schedule has slipped from the initial 2014 completion date.
DHS spokesman John Verrico said Thursday the agency this year received the first construction allocation to pay for building the central utility plant. The current schedule calls for the lab to open in Kansas between 2019 and 2021.