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Don't Miss: Public Hearing on Plum Island Zoning

Residents can speak out about Plum Island's future on Tuesday.

Don't Miss: Public Hearing on Plum Island Zoning
A public hearing on the zoning of Plum Island will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Southold Town Hall. Members of the public will have an opportunity to be heard. 

According to the Save the Sound Facebook page, residents can review the proposal by clicking here.

Last week, residents came together to discuss the future of Plum Island at a community action meeting in Orient; those present were in agreement that looking forward, the goal would be to advocate preservation over private development.

Speaking at the meeting were representatives of Save the Sound and Group for the East End.

Bob DeLuca, president and CEO of Group for the East End, said the proposed sale of Plum Island by the federal government is the most "complicated, convoluted" land sale he has witnessed. 

The proposal to shut down the Plum Island Island Animal Disease Center and create a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility” (NBAF) in Kansas is a contentious issue, with many questioning why the government would site a facility to test animal diseases in the heart of "cow country," DeLuca said. The possibility of diseases spreading is real, DeLuca and Congressman Tim Bishop agreed.

Although no decision has been made, DeLuca said the cost to shutter Plum Island would be roughly $100 million.

Bishop kicked off the discussion by detailing the winding sequence of events that led to the current uncertainty. During the Bush administration, in the wake of 9/11, he said, a decision was made to construct the new NBAF in Kansas. 

The initial cost to build the new facility was estimated to be approximately $300 million, and it was believed the sale of Plum Island would finance the project.  A law states that Plum Island must be sold to pay for the new facility.

"Fast forward to 2013 and the cost has grown to $1.2 billion," Bishop said.

Since Plum Island would never sell for that amount, he said, "or even for something remotely close," the thought was to subdivide Plum Island into four or five parcels, upon which residential units or "McMansions" would be built, Bishop said.

The public spoke out passionately in the past over proposed residential or commercial development on Plum Island, shooting down suggestions for plans including a casino.

Bishop said so far, $223 million has been appropriated by the federal government  to be used for "soft costs," including design and site acquisition, associated with a new NBAF in Kansas. In addition, he said, a "massive" utility power generating plant is being constructed on the campus of Kansas State University.

For the fiscal year 2014, Bishop said, $710 million has been slated for the construction of the NBAF, bringing the amount close to the necessary $1 billion.

Bishop said he and his Connecticut colleague Congressman Joe Courtney, have written to President Barack Obama, "urging that no funds be included in 2014 for the NBAF."

But despite the opposition of many, Bishop said the NBAF is supported by a large Kansas delegation who want the project to move forward and bring jobs and money to the state.

The American Farm Bureau supports the construction of the new facility in Kansas, Bishop said.

"I remain committed in my opposition to the construction of NBAF and my belief that in an ideal world, we will simply keep Plum Island continuing to function as an animal disease laboratory, as it has been since the 1950s."

However, should the sale of Plum Island come to pass, Bishop said he supports new proposed zoning put forth by the Town of Southold. "The zoning plan is one that make sense," he said.

Southold's zoning plan calls for a Plum Island research district, which would comprise 20 percent of the island, and a Plum Island conservation district, that would make up the remaining 80 percent, which would be a natural preserve.

The goal would be to create some kind of research facility that could possibly keep the 200-250 year-round jobs that currently exist on Plum Island in town.

While Bishop said the fate of the current lab still hangs in limbo, even if the Kansas NBAF were approved tomorrow, the animal disease lab on Plum Island would remain open for eight to 10 years. 

Randy Parsons of the Nature Conservancy said preserving Plum Island is critical to protecting both the Peconic and Long Island Sound estuary systems. 

"What we see at Plum Island is a publicly owned treasure which has been abused by the military," he said. "We need to keep Plum Island contributing clean water."

Other environmental issues on Plum Island include plants, animals and birds that need protection, as well as 12 miles of natural shoreline, something that has disappeared on the most part on Long Island due to bulkheads and jetties.

"Plum Island has 12 miles of natural shoreline -- it's a museum piece of what Long Island used to be like," he said.

Should the government decide to pull the plug on Plum Island, the cost of remediating brownfields or contaminated land would be approximately $80 million, Bishop said.

Turner said if a lab is not part of Plum Island's plan in the future, he and others have been advocating for a national wildlife refuge.

The idea put forth by the U.S. General Services Administration, for 750 residential units on Plum Island, "is ridiculous," Parsons said. "We're here to support Southold's zoning proposal. Although the federal government and the GSA have the primary responsibility for preserving this property, Southold is doing a marvelous job of taking a proactive stance."

He added, "This is property the people already own -- it would be an incredible abdication to allow this to be sold from us."

Parsons then said he'd like to put Bishop "on the spot." He asked if the congressman would consider penning legislation that would "decouple" the NBAF issue from the Plum Island sale, and allow the future of Plum Island to stand on its own merit. 

"Politicians in Kansas want to sell Plum Island because they don't think they'll get their lab without it. We'd like to severe that," he said.

Bishop said he would write the legislation; the audience erupted into loud applause and foot stamping.

"I do believe the future of Plum Island ought to be determined on its own merit, separate and distinct from something, the NBAF, that I think is flawed, and heightens the risk of passing on animal-borne diseases on the mainland," Bishop said.

One audience member said the creation of a facility that studies foot and mouth disease "in the middle of cow country is lunacy."

Bishop said one study done by the National Research Council indicated a 70 percent chance of disease spreading outside the barriers of the facility. "Such an outcome would have devastating economic impacts to our food supply."

The Department of Homeland Security, Bishop said, responded and said the risk of outbreak was low and the National Research Council's report, "flawed."

Parsons said his main concern was what happened on Plum Island, a good reason for decoupling the two issues.

Parsons told residents there is no plan for Southold Town to take over Plum Island; the town just created the zoning as a means of protecting the area from future development. Solar energy has been proposed for Plum Island moving forward.

"Southold has put together a visionary, forward-thinking plan," Parsons said. "We strongly support it."

Bishop said the best thing the public can do is to support Southold's zoning plan, and to let their voices be heard at the public hearing.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski explained the town's thinking behind the zoning and said if Plum Island was ever purchased by a private individual, the zoning would set clear parameters for what could and could not be done on the island -- and nix any ideas for casinos or golf courses.

"It was the best step the town could take," Krupski said.


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