Homeland Security: Do they or don’t they want Plum Island?

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01/05/2013 3:00 PM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | A bill pending in Washington would release $3.5 million to reroute the submarine electrical cable linking Orient (top) and Plum Island.

Is the Department of Homeland Security giving conflicting signals on its plans for the future of Plum Island? Congressman Tim Bishop thinks so.

On the one hand, Homeland Security has agreed to take title to 46 acres offered by the City of Manhattan, Kansas, the location of the proposed $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF). That center would replace the Plum Island animal disease research laboratory, at present the nation’s first line of defense against diseases that could threaten the domestic livestock industry.

During a press event last week the governor of Kansas and the state’s congressional delegation pointed to the transfer agreement as proof of Homeland Security’s committment to building NBAF.

But on Dec. 7 the White House, acting on a request from Homeland Security, requested a package of Sandy relief funding that includes $3.25 million for Plum Island. The request, from the department’s science and technology bureau, is for “erosion control and repair work,” specifically, rerouting and retrenching the submbarine electrical power cable running from Orient Point, underneath Plum Gut to the island.

That cable provides the island with a backup source of power.

The two seemingly conflicting actions leaves the congressman shaking his head.

“If the department is looking to get rid of the island, why would it spend that amount of money on a backup system?” Oliver Longwell, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman said.

The Plum Island funding was included in the administration’s $60.4 billion Sandy relief bill recently approved by the Senate. Mr. Longwell said it’s unclear whether that appropriation will be included in the House version, which is to be taken up during the week of Jan. 14.

Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas recently said damage to Plum Island caused by Hurricane Sandy shows the need for Homeland Security to move quickly on a new research facility. But Mr. Longwell said the department’s congressional liaison reported the island suffered no significant storm-related damage.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, a member of the town’s emergency management team, said the report he received is that the hurricane caused some minor erosion where the cable makes landfall, but otherwise the island fared well.

Mr. Longwell said the congressman plans to press federal officials for details.

“We’ve got to do some more digging on this,” he said

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