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Report explores Plum Island's future

Plum Island is seen in an aerial photo

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

Condos on Plum Island?

High-density development of as many as 750 homes is one of the options in an environmental-impact statement for the federal facility where research into contagious animal diseases is conducted under high security.

But don't call a mortgage broker just yet.

The report, recently released by the U.S. General Services Administration and Department of Homeland Security, also looked at the potential impacts from mothballing the facility off Orient Point, continuing to operate it, selling it for low-density development, or turning it into protected open space.

The agencies aren't recommending any of the options but are required to study the impact of all potential future uses if the facility closes.

It's not clear the research center will be shut down. And the Town of Southold said it would oppose high-density development.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town, which would control any development on the 840-acre island if it passes to private ownership, has concerns about the stress it would put on Southold's infrastructure, including narrow Route 25 in Orient.

"It would be a very difficult undertaking for a town to manage," Russell said.

The GSA report assumes that work on Plum Island will transition to another facility by 2021. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) has opposed the Department of Homeland Security mandate to move research to a planned $1 billion facility in Manhattan, Kan., by 2019.

"Discussion of the potential private sale of Plum Island is premature given the critical ongoing work . . . and increasing uncertainty about the future of" the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility proposed in Kansas, Bishop said.

Congress in 2008 required the sale of the Plum Island property if Homeland Security decided to build a new lab elsewhere. The agency decided the next year to construct the new facility in Kansas.

Russell said Southold Town officials want the research to continue on Plum Island. The center employs about 200 people, half from Connecticut, and about 66 living in Southold.

"We would very much like to see Plum Island stay Plum Island," Russell said.

Failing that, he said, Southold would prefer to see a new research facility established that makes use of existing buildings -- a plan that is considered by the study released last week.

The 408-page GSA report also considered mothballing the facility under control of the federal government, but that option conflicts with the legal mandate to sell the property once operations cease. Russell said the mothball status is "the one we fear the most," because it would freeze the small economic contribution of the island.

If the island is sold, the alternatives could also include low-density development with 90 residential units, similar to neighboring Fishers Island, and complete conservation/restoration.

The facility consists of 50 buildings totaling 559,579 square feet. The largest is a 190,500-square-foot laboratory. There are 8 miles of roadway on the island, which gets electricity through two undersea cables by the Long Island Power Authority. The federal property also includes a 9.5-acre ferry terminal with parking lot at Orient Point.

The government has owned Plum Island since 1826. It became the animal disease center in 1954. Scientists there pioneered work fighting foot-and-mouth disease. The island was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

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