No Plum Island consensus on Town Board
Supervisor may seek formal vote
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While the North Fork's representatives in Congress maintain a united front against Plum Island as the site for a new biosafety level four research laboratory, Southold Town Board has yet to take a stand one way or another on the plan, and board members are far from unanimous on the topic.
Responding to citizen requests, voiced at the board meeting two weeks ago, to speak out in opposition to building a BSL-4 lab on Plum Island, Supervisor Scott Russell put the topic on Tuesday's work session agenda. He noted that he has individually vocalized his opposition to the idea of building a new BSL-4 lab on Plum Island. He said he favors upgrading the existing facility but maintaining its BSL-3 status.
Rep. Tim Bishop and Sen. Hillary Clinton have taken similar positions.
BSL-4 labs can handle diseases that can be transmitted to humans, whereas BSL-3 facilities are authorized to handle only animal diseases. A BSL-4 rating means the lab is equipped for the study of "exotic pathogens that pose a high risk of life-threatening disease in animals and humans through the aerosol route and for which there is no known vaccine or therapy," according to the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assess a half-dozen potential sites for the new BSL-4 lab it has been directed to build by President George Bush.
The existing Plum Island facility, the nation's only lab conducting research on the highly contagious and deadly (to animals) foot-and-mouth disease, is old, outmoded and should be shut down, according to DHS, which took over operation of the site from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2003. A new lab, called a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, would take on the foot-and-mouth work in addition to research on other diseases requiring a BSL-4 rating.
"I believe we should try to develop a consensus and a clear position as a board in response to the NBAF proposal," Mr. Russell told board members at the work session Tuesday.
But Mr. Russell didn't get his fellow board members to agree to take a vote.
"Is it the role of the Town Board to take a stand?" Justice Louisa Evans asked. "You're talking about consensus among six people around a table," she said. "Can we be taking a stand as a town. Do we know what the town wants?"
Councilman Al Krupski expressed doubt that the Town Board's position would "carry any weight."
Councilman Vincent Orlando said he is opposed to a BSL-4 lab on the island because of risks to human health.
But Councilman Tom Wickham said a BSL-4 lab could be safely operated on Plum Island, just as the Centers for Disease Control operates such a lab in the Atlanta area.
"I would not want to oppose the location of Plum Island if that were the choice of a thoughtful selection process," Mr. Wickham said.
After the meeting, Mr. Russell said he might offer a resolution on the sense of the board on this issue at the July 29 meeting. "We should have a vote," he said.
A public hearing on the DEIS is scheduled for Aug. 12 at Greenport School. (A copy of the document may be downloaded from a link in the right column)
n A plan for the plan
Consensus on the board seems to be building for undertaking a comprehensive master plan update, with the big question remaining not "if" but "how."
Planning director Heather Lanza will present to the board at its next work session a "work plan" for the planning department that will include the comprehensive plan update. The work plan will allow Ms. Lanza and the board to determine how much of the comprehensive plan work would need to be contracted to outside consultants.
"It will serve as my suggestion for how and when all the work can most feasibly be accomplished," Ms. Lanza wrote in an e-mail to The Suffolk Times Tuesday. Board members seem to support completing the plan in-house, she said, "with some targeted use of consultants where staff does not have the expertise."
A lot of the "groundwork" for the comprehensive plan update has already been done over the past couple of years, Ms. Lanza said.
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