As Infamous Germ-Research Lab Moves West, What Happens to Plum Island?

Homeland Security wants to sell the mysterious island to developers, but some lawmakers fear damage to the Long Island Sound’s ecology.

National Journal
Billy House
Add to Briefcase
Billy House
July 2, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

Plum Is­land has fas­cin­ated con­spir­acy the­or­ists for dec­ades. Weird and sin­is­ter spec­u­la­tion about the gov­ern­ment’s germ re­search on the 3-mile strip has spawned le­gends that only get bet­ter with age, like the al­leged post-World War II re­cruit­ment of Nazi sci­ent­ists to work there on a bio­lo­gic­al-weapons pro­gram, or the re­search con­duc­ted there that sup­posedly led to the spread of Lyme dis­ease.

But now, there’s a far dif­fer­ent type of con­tro­versy spread­ing over Plum Is­land: how to use it after the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment packs up the Na­tion­al Bio and Agro-De­fense Fa­cil­ity and moves west, to a new $1 bil­lion lab in Man­hat­tan, Kan.

Un­der a cur­rent budget-bal­an­cing plan, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in­tends to sell Plum Is­land to the highest bid­der, rais­ing an es­tim­ated $32.8 mil­lion to off­set a por­tion of the cost of the Kan­sas lab.

But on Wed­nes­day, a group of New York and Con­necti­c­ut mem­bers of Con­gress, joined by en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, launched an ef­fort to con­vince House and Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­at­ors to drop the sale.

These law­makers from the Long Is­land Sound re­gion — in­clud­ing Chuck Schu­mer and Kirsten Gil­librand of New York and Richard Blu­menth­al and Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut, among oth­ers — ar­gue in a let­ter to their col­leagues that the en­vir­on­ment­al and eco­lo­gic­al value of the is­land ex­ceeds the es­tim­ated pro­ceeds that could be raised by selling it. In­stead, they want it turned over to the Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice or the Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice.

“We need to pro­ceed very care­fully when con­sid­er­ing the fu­ture of this en­vir­on­ment­al and eco­lo­gic­al treas­ure,” said Rep. Rosa De­Lauro of Con­necti­c­ut. “We have a re­spons­ib­il­ity to en­sure the pro­tec­tion and pre­ser­va­tion of this na­tion­al treas­ure, not only for those liv­ing near their shores, but for their chil­dren and chil­dren’s chil­dren.”

Of course, there’s no dis­put­ing that Plum Is­land for years housed some of the most leth­al bac­teria known to hu­man­kind — or­gan­isms re­spons­ible for swine flu, foot-and-mouth dis­ease, and oth­er live­stock ail­ments. The George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion even ac­know­ledged in 2008 that — 20 years earli­er — there had been ac­ci­dents at the fa­cil­ity, in­clud­ing one in 1978 in­volving the re­lease of highly con­ta­gious foot-and-mouth dis­ease in­to the cattle-hold­ing pens on the is­land.

And the House and Sen­ate mem­bers ar­guing to keep Plum Is­land in fed­er­al gov­ern­ment hands ad­mit it might take mil­lions of dol­lars to re­medi­ate after dec­ades of germ-re­search use. But they ar­gue that “the en­vir­on­ment­al sig­ni­fic­ance of the Plum Is­land area can­not be over­stated.”

The gov­ern­ment’s own en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ments say that a vast num­ber of spe­cies could be im­pacted by de­vel­op­ment on Plum Is­land, in­clud­ing at least two en­dangered spe­cies, the pip­ing plover and the roseate tern. In ad­di­tion, the law­makers ar­gued that de­vel­op­ment of the is­land may af­fect the already en­dangered At­lantic rid­ley sea turtle and three oth­er spe­cies.

“From per­son­al vis­its, pho­tos, and con­ver­sa­tions with ex­perts, we know that the is­land is a crit­ic­al hab­it­at and a pristine land­scape that must be pro­tec­ted in per­petu­ity,” the law­makers wrote to their con­gres­sion­al col­leagues.

What We're Following See More »
ON TO SENATE
House Passes Spending Bill
41 minutes ago
BREAKING

The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.

FULL CABINET IN PLACE
Acosta Confirmed As Labor Secretary
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Alexander Acosta was confirmed Thursday night as Labor secretary, officially filling out President Trump's cabinet on day 98 of his presidency. Nine Democrats joined every present Republican in voting to approve Acosta, with the final tally at 60-38. Trump's first choice for Labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination after taking criticism for hiring undocumented workers and for other matters in his personal life.

Source:
HAS WHITE HOUSE BACKING
Hurd to Make Push on Federal IT
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation today designed to help federal agencies update their aging technology—and this time, it has White House backing. Hurd worked alongside White House Office of American Innovation officials Reed Cordish and Chris Liddell in crafting and tweaking the legislation, and called their partnership an 'invaluable' part of the process."

Source:
2,300 JOBS ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Tillerson Looking to Slash 9% of State Dept. Workforce
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The State Department plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants—about 9 percent of the Americans in its workforce worldwide—as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presses ahead with his task of slashing the agency’s budget, according to people familiar with the matter. The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts."

Source:
LIKELY PAVES WAY FOR BUDGET CR
No ACA Vote This Week
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Despite pressure from the White House, House GOP leaders determined Thursday night that they didn’t have the votes to pass a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act and would not seek to put their proposal on the floor on Friday. A late push to act on health care had threatened the bipartisan deal to keep the government open for one week while lawmakers crafted a longer-term spending deal. Now, members are likely to approve the short-term spending bill when it comes to the floor and keep the government open past midnight on Friday."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login