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
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 »
GLASS CEILING STILL HARD TO CRACK
Clinton Says Voters Still Hung Up on Gender
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a New York Magazine profile, Hillary Clinton said she still encounters misogyny at her own events: “‘I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me.”

Source:
CHANGE WE CAN’T BELIEVE IN
Trump Vows Not to Change
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
Source:
FILING DEADLINE IS JUNE 24
McConnell Urging Rubio to Run for Reelection
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "One of the things that I’m hoping, I and my colleagues have been trying to convince Senator Marco Rubio to run again in Florida. He had indicated he was not going to, but we’re all hoping that he’ll reconsider, because poll data indicates that he is the one who can win for us. He would not only save a terrific senator for the Senate, but help save the majority. ... Well, I hope so. We’re all lobbying hard for him to run again."

Source:
LEAKER SHOULD STILL STAND TRIAL
Holder: Snowden Performed a Public Service
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said that NSA leaker Edward Snowden "actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made" by releasing information about government surveillance. Holder, a guest on David Axelrod's "Axe Files" podcast, also said Snowden endangered American interests and should face consequences for his actions. 

Source:
LOOKING FOR A CALIFORNIA COMEBACK
Bernie Hits Game 7
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Bernie Sanders, needing an improbable comeback to take the nomination from Hillary Clinton, showed up to the Warriors' Game 7 in Oakland during a break in California campaigning. "Let's turn this thing around," he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli.

Source:
×