Lawmakers from New York, and one more from Connecticut, pitched a plea to the federal government yesterday, asking the head of the entity in charge of selling Plum Island to sign an executive order to block the island’s sale.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) joined Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Vernon) in calling for the order, writing that – considering recent zoning restrictions placed on the island by Southold Town leaders – a sale “would do virtually nothing to offset the cost” of a National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, which is slated to be constructed in Kansas. Costs of the new facility have reportedly ballooned to $1.2 billion, up from an original $450 million estimation.
At the end of August, the Southold Town Board voted unanimously to split the 850-acre island into three parcels, essentially keeping its existing uses as a research facility while conserving the majority of the untouched island. Also at the end of August, the federal government reaffirmed its decision to move its Animal Disease Research Facility to Kansas in a formal record of decision, also confirming its decision to sell the land to help defray new construction costs.
Despite the zoning restrictions, a Bishop spokesman clarified on Wednesday that while the congressman is not opposed to the sale of someone who would operate it as such, a high bidder with deep pockets could always challenge the town, possibly resulting in an outcome beside what’s currently in mind.
“If it’s sold to the highest bidder, potentially they could challenge the zoning instituted by Southold Town,” said Oliver Longwell, a Bishop spokesman. “It’s not a likelihood, but it’s a possibility.
“This is a way to get the administration on record about whether they believe a public sale is required by law, as the General Services Administration is contemplating now.”
Supervisor Scott Russell said he supported the letter to the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Burwell, adding that the notions of selling the island and opening a new animal research facility should not be one in the same.
“The issue of Plum Island and its future should be separate and distinct from the construction of the NBAF facility,” Russell said. The construction of the Kansas lab, he said, “doesn’t mean NBAF has to pursue all research under that one roof.”