So Donald Trump wants to buy the island where they research hoof and mouth disease.
On the face of it, his proposal to purchase Plum Island and build a golf course there is preposterous, with economics that just don’t work. Which is why some observers — figuring The Art of the Deal man must have something up his impeccably tailored sleeve — are quietly worried, and monitoring developments carefully. That’s a good idea.
Here’s the backdrop: The federal government is slated to close its high-security animal testing lab on Plum Island and sell the island to help defray the costs of opening the lab’s replacement in Kansas in 2019. The General Services Administration is expected to put Plum Island up for sale via an online auction within a few years.
Trump’s plan, as presented to local elected officials, is to buy the island, take down the lab, do the required environmental cleanup, and build the golf course. One of the local environmentalists (some of them also have been briefed by Trump’s representatives) said Trump described the course’s proposed clubhouse as “modest.” Trump? Since when does he do modest? But put that aside for a moment.
If you’re The Donald, here’s what makes a purchase attractive: It’s an island, an 840-acre island less than 2 miles off Orient Point, much of it pristine, and how often does something like that come on the market? And it most likely will be available for a fire sale price — because of the expensive cleanup that will be needed and the constraints of new zoning adopted by the Town of Southold that makes building almost anything almost impossible.
Which brings us to the obstacles: The zoning adopted recently by Southold in anticipation of a sale does not allow for a golf course. It allows for laboratory research where the lab is and makes the rest of the island a conservation district. The zoning also bans residential development (in other words, no condos on the no-can-do golf course). Current town officials — who prefer that the existing lab facilities be taken over by a biotech or pharmaceutical company — seem to have no interest in Trump’s proposal and no appetite for revisiting the new zoning.
And yet he is interested. Why?
Trump’s pitch in the face of serious known obstacles is what’s causing some of the anxiety on the North Fork. People know that town board members change, town supervisors change, zoning board members change, circumstances change. Could his game be to buy and wait? Purchasing Plum Island would be a risk, but the buy-in could be small and the potential payoff very large.
One thing you have to admire is his chutzpah. In saying he would go forward with the plan only with community approval, Trump told Newsday’s David Schwartz, “We’re adored all over the world.”