Homeland Security might close Plum Island center
BY BILL BLEYER
NEW YORK — The Department of Homeland Security has ruled out keeping the Plum Island Animal Disease Center open to continue its current research if a proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is built in another state.
Until now, the agency has maintained it might keep the Plum Island facility going even if NBAF opened elsewhere in 2015, although the prospects were considered slim.
But following a hearing in Greenport Tuesday, Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said "our general position has been that we intend to operate a single integrated facility."
"It does not make sense costwise or research collaboration-wise to have separate facilities," said Kudwa, adding the position has been spelled out in reports available to the public.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a meeting about Plum Island three years ago with him and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), "indicated to us that keeping it open as a BSL-3 facility ... was an option."
NBAF would be a Bio-Safety Level-4 facility, the most secure, to handle diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, which Plum Island does not study.
Bishop said he had not been told that Homeland Security's position had changed. He said Kudwa's statement "represents the current position of this administration, and this administration has five more months."
As to why the current lab should keep operating in addition to NBAF, Bishop said, "there's a $60 million investment going on right now on Plum Island" to upgrade facilities until NBAF is operational.
Clinton said Plum Island should continue its current work because it "plays a critical role in protecting the health and security of our nation's food supply and is important to the economy of surrounding communities." About 220 scientists and support staff work there.
On Tuesday night, all but one of the 17 speakers urged the department not to build NBAF on Plum Island, saying it posed too much of a threat to the local population and wildlife.
The one exception was former lab director Jerry Callis, who said "Plum Island has served as a good site for this facility" and it did not make sense to relocate its scientists.