An environmental impact study required before the federal government can sell a tiny island housing the nation's only animal disease laboratory will not be ready until next spring, an official said Tuesday, marking the second time the report has been delayed.
The General Services Administration is required to complete the report on Plum Island as part of its plan to close the animal disease lab built there in the 1950s. Officials want to sell the island located 100 miles east of New York City near the eastern tip of Long Island and move operations to a new facility in Manhattan, Kan., by 2018.
However, a National Research Council report issued last month cited safety concerns with the Kansas location, including the risk that animal pathogens could be released close to urban populations and a large cattle supply. Using figures cited by the Department of Homeland Security, the report calculated the risk of a release of a pathogen such as foot-and-mouth disease as 70 percent over the 50-year life of the project.
Kansas officials, however, insisted that the project would proceed.
"This research mission is too important for politics, and we know there is strong, bipartisan support for it," Tom Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Biosciences Authority, said last month of the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Rep. Timothy Bishop, a Long Island Democrat who opposes the relocation, said talk of closing Plum Island is premature, especially following the Kansas report.
"It is clear that the issues raised by the National Academy of Sciences regarding the proposed NBAF Facility in Manhattan, Kan., must be addressed by both Congress and the executive branch before construction of NBAF is fully authorized and steps are taken to divest Plum Island," he said in a statement.
The GSA initially said it would release the Plum Island study at the end of the summer. That release was delayed until early December to allow additional input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said at the time.
GSA spokeswoman Paula Santangelo said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the report will now be issued in the spring. She added in a later statement the schedule was extended "in order for us to properly acknowledge and incorporate as appropriate the many comments we have received throughout the scoping process."
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Long Island-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the negative report on the Kansas site also could be a factor.
"This is such a huge waste of money, even the government has to realize it," Esposito said. "I suspect they're re-evaluating this entire decision. It's nonsensical, it's laughable and it's costly."
Although upgrading the Plum Island lab was considered, officials ultimately decided that renovating the site would be too costly. A 2007 Government Accountability Office review also voiced concern about carrying on such sensitive research in a densely populated area near New York City, citing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
The Plum Island lab was placed there at the infancy of the Cold War; the island was purchased by the federal government in the 19th century to house a U.S. Army base, the remnants of which still remain on the largely undeveloped 840-acre island.
Most environmentalists support a research and development facility to replace the laboratory if the island is eventually sold, but are adamant that most of the island should remain in its natural state.