New life seen for Plum Island facility

by jeeg 15. February 2012 23:30

In a move that could extend the life of the federal animal disease research facility on Plum Island, the Obama administration in its 2013 budget has proposed cutting funding for a new research facility in Kansas that was seen as its replacement.


In doing so, the administration has requested that the proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., undergo a "comprehensive assessment," including a review of its near-$1 billion cost, safety issues and the viability of alternatives, including Plum Island. Scientists have raised questions about the wisdom of placing the new facility, which would study sometimes deadly animal pathogens, in the heart of the Midwestern cattle country.


Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who has authored legislation to block construction of the Kansas facility, Monday applauded the administration's decision not to fund the project this year, subject to Congressional approval.


"I'm delighted," he said Monday night, after a battle by his office to raise questions about the cost and the safety of the Kansas facility. "We don't need it, and we can't afford it."


U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed. "The fact that the president has zeroed-out funding for the level-4 Kansas project could well give Long Island the outcome it wants, by protecting over 100 jobs and maintaining a level-3 facility here on Plum Island," he said, calling for additional investment in Plum Island to continue its work.


Plum Island employs around 200 people, half from Long Island, and conducts non weapons-related animal research, primarily involving threats to livestock such as hoof-and-mouth disease.


The federal government has spent more than $10 million in the past decade shoring up security and other infrastructure at the Plum Island facility.


But the administration's move drew a quick response from public officials in Kansas, where the proposed research facility was viewed as a new economic driver. Last year, the Obama administration requested $150 million in funding for the Kansas facility, but Congress appropriated only $50 million, stalling construction.


"This change of direction is unacceptable and will leave our country vulnerable," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas congressional delegation said in a statement Monday.


Bishop said his efforts to keep Plum Island operating, and defund the Kansas project, will continue.


"We're a long way from the end of the road," he said, noting that Brownback has called construction of the facility a top state priority. "I don't think we've heard the end of them by any stretch."


Nevertheless, Bishop said the cost savings of maintaining Plum Island should appeal to congressional Republicans who have been demanding fiscal restraint.


Mark Harrington, Newsday


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