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Disclosure of Plum Island contamination sought

A security patrol jeep is parked in front

A security patrol jeep is parked in front of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The federal facility is moving to Kansas in 2019. Credit: AP file photo

The Suffolk County Planning Commission voted Wednesday to press federal officials to disclose the extent of contamination on Plum Island and detail a plan to remediate the 850-acre federal research complex for animal diseases before selling it.

The commission voted, 10-0, to send a letter because federal officials so far have supplied little data about potential pollution problems on the island which has been used as a research facility for diseased animals.

Commission member Adrienne Esposito said information federal officials have provided so far is "inadequate and contradictory." Esposito, who also is executive director of Concerned Citizens for the Environment, added, "What we don't know is what ends up hurting us most."

The commission wants federal officials to detail all contamination sites on the island and assess the impact on soil and groundwater. It also wants the federal government to assess the existing sewage treatment system, incinerators and any former dumping sites used in the past on the island.

"The government has not been a great steward," said John Finn, a commissioner from Smithtown. "It's more do what I say, not what I do."

Officials of the Homeland Security Administration, which runs the facility, and the General Services Administration, which would oversee a sale, did not return calls for comment.

The commission at the same meeting approved Southold Town's proposal to create new zoning for the island property, which up to now has been exempt from local regulation because it is a federal facility. The town has proposed designating 177 acres to permit continued use of the research center and ferry terminal, but setting aside 639 acres as a conservation district.

President Barack Obama's budget released in April included $714 million to complete an animal disease testing complex in Kansas, with HSA officials saying Plum Island's facilities have become inadequate, a move the local congressional delegation is actively opposing.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who attended the commission meeting, said he backs the push for an environmental review. "As a practical matter they are going to have to detail the problems because no one is going to want to purchase an island with undefined costs," he said.

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