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Measure in Washington would scuttle sale of Plum Island

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center is shown

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center is shown in this undated photo provided by the Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. Photo Credit: AP

A Senate bill to prevent Plum Island's sale was introduced last night, a measure that also calls for a report on how to transfer the property so it can be preserved.

The measure's author, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), thinks another bill hanging over the 840 acres will further douse potential buyers' desire to snap up the undeveloped, remote island, where the federal government has a research laboratory. Only Democrats have signed on so far -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Connecticut's two senators -- but even without any Republicans, the bill sends a message, supporters said.

"You're not going to buy it if you're a developer if you think we might pass this legislation," Schumer said.

The bill reflects one in the House aimed at reversing Congress' 2008 decision to offset the cost of a $1.2 billion replacement facility in Kansas with Plum Island's sale, but it also calls for recommendations on transferring the land to the federal agency that is "most capable" of preserving the island's natural and historic resources.

Under the bill, the report to Congress would be done by the Environmental Protection Agency; the Interior Department, which oversees federal parks; Homeland Security, which oversees the federal research facility on Plum Island; and the General Services Administration, which handles real estate sales.

Efforts to put the island on the market have been opposed by environmental groups, Southold Town and Long Island's delegation to the State Legislature, which last week sent letters to the Gillibrand and Schumer to stop the sale.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), head of the environmental conservation committee, said it is "awesome" that problems in buying the island are stacking up. "I don't think anyone has jumped up and said, 'Let me put my fortune at risk,' " he said.

Schumer said the bill also would require an analysis of remediation costs for the federal laboratory, which studies animal and deadly infectious diseases.

But about 85 percent of Plum Island is undeveloped, home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, some endangered.

"The idea of selling it to the highest bidder, to throw away an entire ecosystem and a whole piece of Long Island history . . . and generating revenue for another facility in Kansas doesn't help Long Island," Schumer said.

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