$50M+ sale of Plum Island put on backburner

February 22, 2012 06:00PM

The federal government has put the kibosh on a plan to close the recently renovated Plum Island Laboratory on the East End of Long Island and sell off the island to the highest bidder, giving hope to a group of advocates which has fought to keep the facility open for the last year.

The plan halted earlier this month because funding was not made available for a replacement facility in Manhattan, Kan.

Local advocacy organization, Group for the East End, had been fighting to keep the existing lab on three-mile-long Plum Island, they said in a statement today, “as a critical component of the nation’s homeland security infrastructure.”

“The idea that the federal government would take a wrecking ball to a recently-renovated, multi-million-dollar research facility studying foot and mouth disease — one of the most virulent animal diseases known — to spend another several hundred million dollars more on a new lab right in the heart of cattle country might be comical if it weren’t so dangerous and costly,” said Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca in a release.

Local Rep. Tim Bishop, whose district includes the island, which is 100 miles east of New York, has rallied together with the advocacy group in an effort to stop the closure of the facility, writing a letter in December to the director of the Office of Management and Budget asking for the Obama administration’s support to reconsider the Plum Island proposal.

He stated in the letter: “I hope you agree that the administration cannot justify spending approximately $1 billion of taxpayer dollars to create a massive new research facility that would duplicate many of the functions currently served by other existing facilities, particularly given our challenge in reducing the budget deficit.”

The current value of Plum Island, of which the Department of Homeland Security took control in 2003, is estimated to be between $50 and $80 million, according to news reports.

Calls to Bishop and the General Services Administration, which handles the sale of government property, were not immediately returned.

As a point of reference for a reasonable expectation of what Plum Island might sell for – Bishop pointed to Robins Island, a 435-acre island also within the jurisdiction of Southold Town, like Plum Island – which sold for $11 million in 1993. Bishop used the Robins Island sale as evidence that the Plum Island might not sell for as much as expected. — Katherine Clarke