U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin held a press conference on Sunday, April 24, to announce what he called a major breakthrough on legislation he introduced in Congress last year to prevent the sale of Plum Island by the federal government to the highest bidder. Joined by supportive local elected officials, representatives of environmental groups and residents who are concerned about the possible sale of the facility, where the government has conducted studies on animal diseases.
Mr. Zeldin’s bill will voted on in the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, April 28, which will allow it to come to a vote before the entire House later this year. The bill as amended will commission the Government Accountability Office, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, which currently owns the island, to formulate a comprehensive plan for the future of the island. The plan will include possible alternative uses for the island, including a transfer of ownership to another federal agency, the state or local government, a non-profit, or a combination of them for the purpose of education, research, and conservation.
Since World War II, Plum Island has been used as a research laboratory. The facility, which has been under federal jurisdiction since 1899, has since grown to become what is known today as the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security, which currently has jurisdiction over the island, announced that the Animal Disease Center research would be moved to a new federal facility, the Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility in Kansas.
To offset the cost of this relocation, a law was enacted that called for the private sale of Plum Island to the highest bidder. However, due to the costs associated with the cleanup and closure of Plum Island, and because of Southold Town zoning restrictions, the federal government would receive little compensation for the sale of Plum Island.