April 19, 2006
Plum Island Development "Disturbing"
An e-mail sent out by the United States Department of Homeland Security has sparked new concerns regarding the future of Plum Island.
The e-mail solicits proposals for architectural services for the design of a new facility to replace Plum Island at a "site to be designated."
The proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility would "replace the existing Plum Island facility and enhance capabilities to meet the mandated national and bio and agro-defense mission requirements of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the United States Department of Agriculture," said the e-mail.
The estimated total cost for the project is approximately $451 million including design and construction.
The missive sent shock waves across the North Fork. "The latest news from DHS is very disturbing," said Greenport Mayor David Kapell. "My reading of the language in the solicitation for design services makes clear that Plum Island's days are numbered unless the community and our congregational delegation start fighting for the new lab to be built there."
Kapell added that the "issue is iconic for the North Fork. The jobs we will lose will be yet another nail in the coffin of local working families who are already reeling from high housing costs and the increasingly seasonal nature of employment in a tourist-based economy.
"What could be better for the community than to have the federal government invest $451 million in a lab that will produce crucial good-paying jobs on an island where it is in nobody's backyard? This is a scandal for the community."
Kapell insisted that concerned residents should speak out and contact elected officials insisting that residents want the new lab to be built on Plum Island.
This is the most recent development in what have been a series of announcements regarding Plum Island, the future of which is currently undecided. The United States Department of Homeland Security announced last August that it would be undertaking a "requirements analysis" to identify a next-generation biological and agricultural defense facility and possibly replace it, which could mean closing the Plum Island facility.
According to Donald Tighe, DHS spokesman, PIADC, built in the 1950s, is aging and more costly to maintain. He said that laboratory and test space in the current facility is insufficient to support the increasing levels of research and development needed to meet growing concerns in the "post 9/11 world" about accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases into the country.
President George Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget requests $23 million for the needs assessment and design process for a new national bio and agro-defense facility.
The news sparked an outcry amongst North Fork residents who questioned how the closure could affect the lives of those working on Plum Island as well as the local economy.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Tim Bishop expressed their belief that Plum Island could be upgraded to continue to conduct Biosafety Level 3 research.
Clinton has expressed strong opposition to upgrading Plum Island to Biosafety Level 4, required for work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease.
If the decision was made to abandon the facility, Clinton said a priority would be to study potential alternative uses for the site and possible remediation.
Tighe did not return calls as of press time
"If we want to save Plum Island, we must support the proposed new lab," said Kapell. "The village board and I are available to do anything we can to assist in this effort."