Suffolk Closeup: Pick the Plum for power

07/29/2014 6:00 AM |

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A group of Congressional representatives led by Tim Bishop of Southampton is calling on the federal government not to sell Plum Island, as it plans, but to put it under the jurisdiction of a “federal agency such as the U.S. National Park Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” In their June 30 letter to the House and Senate appropriation committees, the representatives says they “remain deeply concerned” about the “ecological value” of Plum Island. 

Plum Island, a national park or wildlife refuge? This would be like declaring Love Canal or other heavily polluted areas national parks or wildlife refuges.

Indeed, the federal government has an ethical responsibility not to sell Plum Island — despite the fantasy of Donald Trump to use it for a “really beautiful, world-class golf course” and talk by the government of housing developments.

A sensible plan would be to make Plum Island a site for alternative energy. Bill Smith of Shelter Island, long head of Fish Unlimited, is leading an initiative to do this. “After a true remediation effort and only in areas where there would be no danger to humans, turn Plum Island into an alternative energy facility,” he advocates. “We could utilize its very unique position to generate wind, solar and tidal power, much of which could then be used to power homes and businesses on the East End.”

Tidal power would come from the enormous energy of Plum Gut between Plum Island and Orient Point.

This vision would minimize exposure by people to the toxins on the island while making productive use of it.

The huge problem involving Plum Island is the mess made by the facility for which the island was dedicated for more than six decades: the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). Until recent times, all waste produced by PIADC, including the carcasses of animals subject to experiments, was buried and/or incinerated on the island. No waste was taken off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years involving the Plum Island waste. The DEC has “expressed concerns related to historic waste disposal activities on the island,” stated Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a letter last year to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), now the agency in charge of Plum Island after 9/11.

A federal environmental impact statement “acknowledges” that contamination “identified by DEC has never been fully investigated,” said the governor, and it “fails to provide any details about when or even whether these issues will be resolved.” He expressed concern about “known landfills and the need to properly close Building 257.”

Building 257 was used when Plum Island was designated as a place for the U.S. Army to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals used for food in the Soviet Union, according to government documents obtained by Newsday. That Cold War mission was later dropped, the island given to the Department of Agriculture and PIADC established to conduct research on foreign animal diseases and also ways to counter biological warfare aimed at U.S. animals. DHS now wants to close PIADC and sell the island to help finance the construction of a new “National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility” in Kansas with more modern laboratories.

“Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257 … has failed,” said Michael Carroll, the author of “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory.”

“They can’t get that building clean,” Mr. Carroll said.

Of preserving Plum Island, Mr. Carroll, an attorney, added, “You can’t let anybody on it.”

Mr. Smith says that Plum Island is “still a toxic nightmare no matter how much the government, our clueless politicians and now the Department of Homeland Security would lead you to believe is not the case.” He tells of one visit he made to Plum Island in which he observed “literally hundreds and hundreds of little colored flags marking sites” of contamination.

“The idea of putting homes on Plum Island is frightening,” Mr. Smith said. “The liability associated with it would be off the charts.” And “Trump’s golf course and the excavation associated with it would release vast and unknown amounts of contamination … From a rational standpoint both ideas are completely insane and only motivated by the worst types of greed.”

Mr. Smith concluded by saying, “The list of positive possibilities for an alternative energy Plum Island facility is frankly endless and with the right people behind it could be a real and working possibility … In fact, the work and planning should begin right away.”