DHS is searching for buyers for Plum Island facility

Published 4 August 2009

The Plum Island Biosafety level 4 facility — the only type of research lab authorized to handle diseases that are communicable between humans and animals and for which there is no known cure — is aging; DHS has selected a Kansas site for a new, $500 million replacement; DHS is beginning to look for buyers for the Plum Island facility

Are you in the market for real estate with an unobstructed ocean view? Read on. Representatives of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that brokers real estate transactions involving the federal government, approached the Southold Town Board looking to “collaborate” with the town in the selling of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC).

The research operations at PIADC, which is under the jurisdiction of DHS, are scheduled to move to a more secure facility that has yet to be constructed in Kansas. Proceeds from the island’s sale are slated to off-set construction costs of a $500 million Biosafety level 4 facility — the only type of research lab authorized to handle diseases that are communicable between humans and animals. North Fork.com’s Joe Pinciaro writes that the GSA’s introduction to the Town Board marks a preliminary step in the process of selling the property, which has served as a research facility for over 50 years and has been in government hands for over a century.

How can we help you help us?” asked John Kelly, director of the Property Disposal Division of the GSA. “There is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done to catalog the resources on the island, but this is just the beginning.”

Kelly listed a range of regulatory issues that must be dealt with — from environmental policy to historical preservation to endangered species protection — before any type of “marketing angle” can be pursued. He mentioned that the island could be sold by 2011 or 2012. “There are basically six or seven steps in the process and each one will take a different period of time” stated GSA Public Affairs Officer Paula Santangelo. Santangelo noted the following steps: due diligence, regulatory compliance, marketing, sale period, sale award, sale close. “We are currently in the due diligence period and this was more or less an introductory meeting. As we go through the process, more public meetings will take place at different steps along the way.”

The Town of Southold is responsible for zoning the 840-acre island, as it was originally sold to the federal government in the late 1800s as unzoned property. Supervisor Scott Russell said at the boards recent meeting last Tuesday that he had spoken with Planning Director Heather Lanza to, “evaluate the scenarios for the island. Hopefully we will be able to keep it as some sort of research facility that will provide meaningful employment.”

Lanza called it a “really exciting, unique opportunity” for a planner, as the chance to determine zoning districts on an untouched parcel comes around so rarely. Lanza said the preliminary planning process has already begun, which so far has included gathering information about the island and forming a list of questions to be sent to the GSA.

According to Kelly, the entire property consists of three components: the 840-acre parcel, the 9.5-acre parcel in Orient Point where research facility employees depart to Plum Island, and the personal government property which includes all research facilities, an administration building with a library, conference room and cafeteria. Wells on the island supply water and a wastewater treatment facility maintains the property’s waste.

Both Russell and Councilman Tom Wickham believe the island lends itself to continue primarily as a research facility. Wickham lamented the decision of the Department of Homeland Security to sell the property in the first place, and in an interview expressed a sense of “deep regret” that Southold is losing PIADC.

My hope of hopes is that it continues to be used as a Biolevel-3 facility,” Russell said, adding that any residential zoning is an unlikely scenario. “It has all of the infrastructure to support research - perhaps we could get a university program over there. But I can’t suggest that my idea is anything but a pipe dream.”