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Editorial: Southold rightly trying to steer future of Plum Island

A lighthouse stands on Plum Island. (Oct. 6,

A lighthouse stands on Plum Island. (Oct. 6, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

The death knell for Plum Island as a site for sensitive animal disease research grew louder Tuesday, with the release of a federal environmental report that recommended it be sold to private interests. The lab may be going, but dense private development is not the best alternative.

The 843-acre island a mile off the tip of Long Island's North Fork has housed the national Animal Disease Center since 1954, but the federal government is gung-ho to move that operation to Kansas. President Barack Obama put $714 million in his 2014 budget to build a new Bio and Agro-Defense Facility there. It won't be completed until 2019, but there's no doubt anymore that the lab is moving. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wants open space preserved on the island.

Plum Island's developed portion is a great site for scientific research. If officials can't find a federal agency to use that area for that purpose, they should seek buyers who will. Local officials are moving to nudge Washington in that direction. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), and the New York delegation, will try to repeal a 2008 law mandating that the island be sold to offset the cost of the new facility in Kansas.

Meanwhile the Town of Southold is pushing to zone the island to keep about 650 acres undisturbed, as a wildlife preserve, while dedicating the lab's 175 acres to educational or research purposes. That would prevent the development of homes and commercial businesses. And the environmental impact report identified 87 former waste sites on the island, some that are being remediated and others it said require no further action. That could also deter residential development. The General Services Administration didn't identify potential buyers in its report, but said the island could support up to 500 homes.

Washington is pushing hard to squeeze some dollars out for the Treasury by selling Plum Island for development. Southold's aggressive plan to zone the island couldn't be more appropriate.