Gov. Cuomo urges more study of Plum Island sale

Gov. Cuomo urges more study of Plum Island sale

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Plum Island (USDA photo) Plum Island (USDA photo)

FRANK ELTMAN | AP

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- New York state is demanding a review of environmental conditions on Plum Island before the federal government can sell the island and move an infectious animal disease laboratory to a new facility in Kansas, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

"Before the sale of Plum Island can continue, Washington must step up and sign a legally binding consent order spelling out its full plan for cleaning up the Island and giving the state oversight authority to make sure the work has been done properly," Cuomo said in a statement.

The 843-acre island off the eastern tip of Long Island houses a laboratory that studies infectious animal diseases that could imperil the nation's livestock industry. Congress voted in 2009 to close the aging laboratory, which opened in 1954. Before that the property housed a Spanish-American War-era U.S. Army base; old parade grounds and decrepit artillery batteries remain on the eastern half of the island.

Legislation envisions using proceeds from the sale to defray the costs of moving operations to a new laboratory at Kansas State University, although members of Congress from New York and Connecticut introduced legislation earlier this year that would block the sale.

Environmentalists on both sides of Long Island Sound have said if the island is eventually sold, it should be maintained as a wildlife sanctuary. The town of Southhold, which wound have jurisdiction over Plum Island after it is sold, recently passed zoning laws that would effectively prevent any development on the property.

At a press conference on eastern Long Island, Cuomo cited a 2010 letter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that raised concerns about lingering environmental issues on Plum Island. That letter said, among other things, that there was no environmental remediation plan in place for the lab's Building 257, where research was conducted for many decades before a modernized laboratory replaced it.

The DEC said in 2007 that hundreds of tons of contaminated soil had been removed from landfills and other areas on the island, adding there appeared to be no existing environmental threats, but Long Island environmentalists remain dubious.

"We are ecstatic that Gov. Cuomo has added his voice in calling for a comprehensive environmental investigation and cleanup of Plum Island," said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "History teaches us that protection of the long term health and safety of the public should never be traded for short term financial gain."

A spokesman for the General Services Administration, which is overseeing the sale, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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