08/30/13 1:00pm
08/30/2013 1:00 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The federal government is pushing forward with plans to move the research facility on Plum Island to Kansas State University.

The federal government is pushing forward with plans to auction Plum Island to the highest bidder, despite repeated concerns raised by lawmakers and environmental groups that there is not enough information to support the sale.

The General Services Administration and Department of Homeland Security issued its “record of decision” last Thursday night. The recommendation is one of the last steps before the property is put to auction.

The agencies hope to close the research laboratory at Plum Island and use the profits from the island’s sale to cover the cost of constructing a new, $1.1 billion animal disease research laboratory in Manhattan, Kan. A facility at Kansas State University is necessary in order to study zoonotic diseases — illnesses that can be transferred from animals to people, said Homeland Security spokesman John Verrico.

The existing Plum Island lab does not have the capacity to study those types of diseases, Mr. Verrico said.

Additionally, Homeland Security wants to locate the research facility closer to veterinary schools and livestock, so samples can be received and processed faster, he said.

Meanwhile, elected leaders have taken issue with the the sale and taken steps to prevent development at the land.

Last month, Congressman Tim Bishop (D- Southampton) introduced “Save, don’t sell Plum Island,” a bill designed to overturn the 2008 congressional mandate for the federal government to sell the island.

Meanwhile, Southold Town approved new zoning laws Tuesday that would prevent any significant development of the island.

The record of decision comes two months after the General Services Administration released is final environmental study that suggested up to 500 homes could be built on the island.

The study had environmental groups up in arms, pointing to several holes in the document, including citing the discovery of mammoth bones on the island that were later found to be discovered on Plum Island, Mass., not New York.

The General Services Administration and Homeland Security issued a joint statement saying the agencies issued the record of decision after considering “all the factors discovered and analyzed” during the National Environmental Policy Act process.

Mr. Verrico said there is no estimate of what the 840-acre island could fetch at auction, but said the sale was at least five years away.

cmurray@timesreview.com

03/20/13 10:00am
03/20/2013 10:00 AM
TIM KELLY PHOTO | Research work could continue on Plum Island's westernmost section under new zoning proposed by Southold's Planning Department.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | An aerial view of Plum Island.

Southold Town’s long-awaited plan to zone Plum Island could be ready for public comment in April. The town’s code committee had its last look at the proposed zoning March 14.

The island has never been under any zoning category because it has been in federal hands and is therefore not subject to local planning regulations. The proposed zoning would go into effect only if the federal government sells the 840-acre island, home to a national laboratory studying animal diseases.

The town’s action was prompted by the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to replace the Plum Island lab with a new $1 billion animal disease research facility in Manhattan, Kan.

Homeland Security took title to the 46-acre Kansas site in January and, in February, DHS and the State of Kansas awarded an $80 million contract to build a utility plant there. But Congress has yet to authorize any additional funding.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama will include the Kansas construction in his 2014 federal budget, which was due in early February but will not be released until early April.

The pending town plan would divide Plum Island into three zoning districts. The Plum Island Research District would encompass the existing lab and surrounding 175 acres, while the Plum Island Conservation District would encompass 600 undeveloped acres. The third zone, Marine II, would allow for improved access to the island at its existing ferry facilities. Improvements to ferry services would be granted by special exception permit from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Early drafts of the zoning proposal allowed renewable energy generation on the island — which could have included wind and tidal power. But because environmental groups raised concerns about the effect of other generation sources on birds and marine life, the latest draft allows only soloar energy generation. A solar energy permit would also require a special exception permit from the ZBA.

Members of the code committee said at their March 14 meeting that they hoped to revisit other renewable energy production on the island after the initial zoning is adopted.

The town’s planning department is currently completing a study to back up any zoning changes, said planning director Heather Lanza.

Ms. Lanza said an April public hearing could be set by the Town Board as soon as their March 26 meeting.

byoung@timesreview.com

01/05/13 3:00pm
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