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Editorial: Begin to plan for Plum Island's future

Plum Island is seen in an aerial photo

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

The long-term future of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is still shrouded in mist, but for now, a new scientific report makes clear that the facility is still necessary. That will help give everyone some time to plan what should happen on the island at the tip of the North Fork when a new facility in Kansas opens -- in 2020 or so.

The National Academy of Sciences report says that the research into foot-and-mouth disease, conducted by scientists on the island, must continue -- at least until the Kansas facility opens. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) keeps working to kill funding for the Kansas lab. And some folks out West also oppose it. A government study projected that a leak in Kansas of the organisms, sometimes fatal to cattle, could cause $1-billion worth of damage.

Still, the country will eventually need a new facility to do what Plum Island does, plus the potentially more lethal work of studying diseases that can harm humans as well as animals. So the 200 jobs on Plum Island are likely to disappear.

The 843-acre island's unbuilt part should be a wildlife preserve. But what about its 80-plus developed acres? The Town of Southold opposes dense housing, because that would stress Southold roads. But the town shouldn't wait until the facility closes to decide on the right use.

The scientific report holds out a hope of more time, and Southold should use it wisely to work on a real plan for the post-foot-and-mouth island that's coming.