N.Y. island site of animal disease lab may be sold

Plum Island, and 840-acre site which has been the site of an animal disease control laboratory since the early days of the Cold War, may be going up for sale soon.

Not everyone is convinced the move is a wise one, an Associated Press wire report says.

The federal government now intends to resume animal disease research at a new facility in Manhattan, Kansas, according to the report.

In 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office told Congress that Plum Island's vulnerability was apparent after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Following the attacks, new laws were enacted and access to the facility was tightened. Eventually the site was transferred to from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security.

Sources told the AP that it was around this time that plans for a new high level biosecurity facility were hatched.

Environmentalist Adrienne Esposito said, however, that the extent of damage to the soil has to be determined before any further talks of development at the site ensue.

“Any time a government facility is cloaked in secrecy, you have to wonder about what went on,” Esposito, told the AP. “The more you look, the more you find. This would be the first time a comprehensive examination of the island would be pursued."

U.S. Rep. Timothy Bishop, whose district includes Plum Island, is among those who are not sold on the plans for a new facility in Kansas.

He told the a Homeland Security subcommittee in a letter this week that the sale of Plum Island could fetch $50 million to $80 million — not counting cleanup costs.

“That would hardly cover the costs of building a new $650 million lab in Kansas,” Bishop said. "Before we cross a point of no return, I want everyone to open their eyes and look at what we're doing here. Rather than pour hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down a sinkhole in Kansas and open the Pandora's box of decommissioning Plum Island, we should...make use of existing facilities that continue to serve this nation well."

Last year, Congress appropriated $32 million for a new 520,000-square-foot in Kansas. Most of those funds planning and design and a safety study.

One of the new functions of the planned facility is to allow researchers to study diseases that can pass from animals to humans, which is not done at the Plum Island facility now.