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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Plum Island’s Future

The federal government wants to sell Plum Island, situated near Long Island’s North Fork, but is there a buyer who wants an 840-acre parcel where today more than 40 foreign animal diseases (FADs), such as hog cholera and African swine fever, are being studied?

Oh, and if Plum Island’s use since the 1950s as a place where the federal government has also developed technologies to mitigate the risks of FAD-caused catastrophic economic losses isn’t enough of a turn-off, its location may give pause to a prospective buyer, too.

Plum Island is about 1.5 miles from the northeast tip of Orient Point, NY so it is accessible only by watercraft, according to a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released last week by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GSA is charged with selling excess federal properties whereas DHS has oversight over what is officially known as the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). The PIADC’s operations are conducted in 47 separate buildings on Plum Island, the EIS explains.

The PIADC’s personnel and resources are scheduled to move to Manhattan, Kansas in 2019. Yet Plum Island could still have PIADC employees and contractors working at the site into 2021, the EIS states. Given this timeline, Plum Island is years away from being sold. Public comments on the EIS are being received by the GSA through Sept. 18, 2012.

The federal government outlines in its EIS four “reuse options” for Plum Island’s next owner. Two are reasonable, and two are preposterous. Let’s start with the realistic concepts. Reuse Option 1 calls for leaving Plum Island’s existing buildings, infrastructure and transportation assets in place, and adapting them “for other purposes.” Reuse Option 4 envisions a scenario whereby the property would be purchased for “conservation or preservation purposes.”

The ridiculous reuse scenarios call for the creation of 90 residential units (Reuse Option 2) on Plum Island, a low-density development, “similar to that of neighboring Fishers Island, New York.” The high-density zoning option (Reuse Option 3) “would accommodate approximately 750 residential units,” based on the federal government’s assessment of what the town of Southold’s current zoning regulations allow.

Look, I travel regularly on the New York City subway so coming into close contact with diseases, both foreign and domestic, is not something I agonize over. I would, however, balk at buying a residence on, or near, a site where I knew FADs had been studied for the 60-plus years prior to my arrival.

If Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) has his way, the National Bio and Agro Defense (NBAF) facility in Manhattan, Kansas will not be built.

Rep. Bishop said last month that the NBAF building’s price tag, which he pegged at $1 billion, is unaffordable. Moreover, the research necessary to protect the nation’s livestock is already being conducted at the PIADC, which supports 200 local jobs, and other government labs, the Congressman stated. Rep. Bishop also pointed to a National Academy of Sciences report which examined the risks posed by researching dangerous animal diseases in the U.S.’s agricultural heartland. Yeah, I wonder what Manhattan, Kansas’ residents are saying about their potential new neighbor?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: