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Cuomo: Feds must address Plum Island environmental 'secrets'

Plum Island is seen in an aerial photo

Plum Island is seen in an aerial photo on May 20, 2010. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Calling Plum Island "the island of secrets," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Monday demanded that the federal government address still-unanswered questions about groundwater contamination and the disposal of waste before the property is sold.

In remarks he made at Orient Beach State Park and in a letter he sent to federal agencies, Cuomo said the federal government needs to allow the state to have final sign-off before selling the land.

"There have been too many secrets for too many years," he said.

The "largest unanswered question" centers around groundwater quality and the source of PCB contamination in the water, Cuomo wrote in his letter. The final federal environmental report acknowledges that an islandwide assessment of groundwater quality has never been conducted, but doesn't say when it would be done.

The federal government is selling the island, in Southold Town, and closing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, home to the nation's major livestock animal disease testing facility, to make way for a new lab being built in Kansas.

It completed the final environmental study this summer.

Officials from the General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security didn't return calls for comment Monday, but they have defended the environmental report. Further study and cleanup could be done as the Kansas lab gets close to opening, around 2019, officials said.

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which opened in 1954, has tried in recent years to become more transparent, sponsoring community days at the island where employees bring their families and members of the media and environmental groups take tours that try to dispel myths surrounding the island.

During a 2011 inspection, state officials determined that the lab is not properly managing solid waste coming out of the testing labs, Cuomo wrote.

"These deficiencies create an unacceptable risk," according to his letter.

He called on the federal government to arrange for an islandwide inspection by state regulators so the state could do its own investigation.

If the federal government does not cooperate, the state would explore "legal remedies," Cuomo's office said.

The governor is the latest official to raise concerns about the island's sale. Members of the New York and Connecticut congressional delegations, local environmentalists, town officials and other federal agencies have also expressed worry about the environmental and economic impacts of closing the lab and selling the island.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Monday that closing Plum Island poses "environmental risks, health risks and economic risks."

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said Monday that rumors and speculation about Plum Island have been around for years.

"We need to know where those secrets are," he said.

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