Activists look to save NY's Plum Island

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August 21, 2013, 7:48 pm
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(NECN: Brian Burnell) - Plum Island, N.Y. sits just a mile from Long Island. It is currently home to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Disease Research Center.

The lab was put on the island to reduce the risk that diseases being studied might spread outside. The USDA wants to build a new lab in Kansas and close this one, so the government is looking to sell Plum Island. Many, including Representative Joe Courtney and Senator Richard Blumenthal, think that is a bad plan.

"Selling it to the highest bidder would be wrong. What's right is to either transfer it to another government agency which will preserve it or to an entity, a private organization, that is committed impeccably and irreparably to preserve it as open space."

Usually other government agencies do get the right of first refusal on federally owned property that is being proposed for sale, but that is not happening here.

The General Services Administration says the sale of Plum Island would help offset the cost of the new facility in Kansas. Advocates for preservation say that sounds really good until you do the math.

Charles Rothenberger is with Save the Sound.

"The estimates for the construction of the new facility are in excess of $1 billion. Estimates of what Plum Island might fetch through a public sale range between $35 and $50 million so clearly it's not going to go a long way towards offsetting that cost," he says.

And Courtney questions the wisdom of the Kansas idea.

"I think this whole push by USDA to move this research facility out to the middle of the food belt where beef production is really concentrated is highly questionable," he says.

So, for now, Plum Island, N.Y. remains a secure, federal facility - as evidenced by the security boat that shadowed us as we turned back to Connecticut.

Tags: Brian Burnell, Richard Blumenthal, Joe Courtney, US Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, Plum Island New York, US Department of Agriculture Animal Disease Research Center, Save the Sound, Charles Rothenberger
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