With Groundbreaking Underway at Bio-Defense Lab in Kansas, Preservationists Prepare to Sue over Plan to Sell Plum Island
Lawmakers in Kansas celebrated the groundbreaking last week of a new biodefense laboratory that is expected to replace the lab at Plum Island, as environmentalists here are planning to sue the Department of Homeland Security and the federal General Services Administration over their environmental report prepared for the sale of the island here.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and federal Kansas lawmakers patted themselves on the back at the May 27 groundbreaking in Manhattan, Kansas for a new, half-million square foot laboratory that is slated to cost more than $1.25 billon. It is expected to be fully online in 2022, replacing the animal disease research work currently being done on Plum Island.
The 2008 law authorizing the closure of the Plum Island lab also required that the federal government sell the island to the highest bidder in order to offset the cost of the new lab, but environmental groups both here and in Connecticut hope to prevent that from happening.
Save the Sound outreach coordinator Chris Cryder told the Southold Town Board May 19 that the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, which in January filed a 60-day notice of its intent to sue the federal government over the sale of Plum Island, is preparing to go ahead with their lawsuit.
“Sixty days have passed. The Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration did respond to us, but we did not feel the response was adequate,” he said. “It is our intent to move forward with the lawsuit.”
The suit alleges that the federal government “did not adequately analyse a conservation alternative” in preparing an environmental impact statement for the sale, failed to consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about endangered species on the island and “did not adequately analyze contamination issues that are out on the island,” said Mr. Cryder.
Mr. Cryder said the coalition’s goal is to see 80 percent of the island remain undeveloped and be transferred either to the Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Parks Service, and the remaining 20 percent of the island remain as some type of research facility.
“We believe those goals are consistent with your zoning for Plum Island,” he told the town board, which adopted its first-ever zoning for Plum Island in 2013. “We want to thank you for your leadership on zoning. It was definitely a good safety net.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Lee Zeldin’s bill introduced April 16 to decouple the sale of Plum Island from the closure of the lab was referred to the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies on April 29.
If adopted, the bill (HR 1887) would reverse the 2008 law that mandated Plum Island be sold at public auction to the highest bidder.
Mr. Zeldin’s predecessor, Tim Bishop, had filed a very similar bill in 2013, which was never released from the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Efficiency.
Mr. Cryder said that New York and Connecticut senators are also in negotiations with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to do much the same thing.
“We feel there’s a good chance of success now,” he said, adding that the federal government has already allocated much of the money needed for the new lab, and will not be relying as heavily on money from the sale of Plum Island as they had initially anticipated.
“They’re starting construction this month, and they have almost all the money they need to start,” he said. “There’s no longer the financial argument they would need financial monies from Plum Island.”
“Plum Island, with your zoning, is also worth much less than they thought,” he added.
Mr. Cryder added that, if federal solutions don’t work, his group is drafting a position that the sale would not be constant with New York State coastal zone management laws.
“We’re in the process of writing up that argument,” he said.