First, another public hearing will be held on the town's proposed Plum Island zoning. A previous public hearing was held in May.
In April, residents came together to discuss the future of Plum Island at a community action meeting in Orient; those present were in agreement that looking forward, the goal would be to advocate preservation over private development.
Southold's zoning plan calls for a Plum Island research district, which would comprise 20 percent of the island, and a Plum Island conservation district, that would make up the remaining 80 percent, which would be a natural preserve.
The goal would be to create some kind of research facility that could possibly keep the 200-250 year-round jobs that currently exist on Plum Island in town.
The town board agreed Tuesday to strike the third zoning, Marine II, from the legislation. That zoning deals with ferry access to Plum Island; Councilwoman Jill Doherty said Tuesday that too many questions still exist regarding that zoning. Town Attorney Martin Finnegan said the public can weigh in on the issue at a later time.
Speaking at the Orient meeting in April were representatives of Save the Sound and Group for the East End.
Bob DeLuca, president and CEO of Group for the East End, said the proposed sale of Plum Island by the federal government is the most "complicated, convoluted" land sale he has witnessed.
The proposal to shut down the Plum Island Island Animal Disease Center and create a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility” (NBAF) in Kansas is a contentious issue, with many questioning why the government would site a facility to test animal diseases in the heart of "cow country," DeLuca said. The possibility of diseases spreading is real, DeLuca and Congressman Tim Bishop agreed.
Although no decision has been made, DeLuca said the cost to shutter Plum Island would be roughly $100 million.
Bishop kicked off the discussion by detailing the winding sequence of events that led to the current uncertainty. During the Bush administration, in the wake of 9/11, he said, a decision was made to construct the new NBAF in Kansas.
The initial cost to build the new facility was estimated to be approximately $300 million, and it was believed the sale of Plum Island would finance the project. A law states that Plum Island must be sold to pay for the new facility.
"Fast forward to 2013 and the cost has grown to $1.2 billion," Bishop said.
Since Plum Island would never sell for that amount, he said, "or even for something remotely close," the thought was to subdivide Plum Island into four or five parcels, upon which residential units or "McMansions" would be built, Bishop said.
The public spoke out passionately in the past over proposed residential or commercial development on Plum Island, shooting down suggestions for plans including a casino.
Bishop said so far, $223 million has been appropriated by the federal government to be used for "soft costs," including design and site acquisition, associated with a new NBAF in Kansas. In addition, he said, a "massive" utility power generating plant is being constructed on the campus of Kansas State University.
For the fiscal year 2014, Bishop said, $710 million has been slated for the construction of the NBAF, bringing the amount close to the necessary $1 billion.
Bishop said he and his Connecticut colleague Congressman Joe Courtney, have written to President Barack Obama, "urging that no funds be included in 2014 for the NBAF."
But despite the opposition of many, Bishop said the NBAF is supported by a large Kansas delegation who want the project to move forward and bring jobs and money to the state.
The American Farm Bureau supports the construction of the new facility in Kansas, Bishop said.
"I remain committed in my opposition to the construction of NBAF and my belief that in an ideal world, we will simply keep Plum Island continuing to function as an animal disease laboratory, as it has been since the 1950s."
However, should the sale of Plum Island come to pass, Bishop said he supports new proposed zoning put forth by the Town of Southold. "The zoning plan is one that make sense," he said.
While Bishop said the fate of the current lab still hangs in limbo, even if the Kansas NBAF were approved tomorrow, the animal disease lab on Plum Island would remain open for eight to 10 years.
Environmentalists have continued to call for preservation of Plum Island. Recently, the Save the Sound group submitted comments to the United States General Services Administration highlighting what they deemed "shortcomings" in the General Service Administration’s final environmental impact statement on the proposed sale of Plum Island.
In the comments, Save the Sound said that the FEIS does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in evaluating foreseeable impacts of development, fails to take into account the government interest in protecting habitat for rare species, and does not properly respond to concerns raised during the public input process, among other flaws.
“Protecting Plum Island is vital to the health of Long Island Sound and the region’s wildlife,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound. “While Congress has provided the General Services Administration with the tools it needs to preserve the undeveloped portions of the island, GSA has chosen to ignore their ability to recommend a conservation option through the EIS process, and instead foists the responsibility of preserving Plum Island onto state and local government."
The town board will also vote on the proposed legislation that sets out parameters for dogs on local beaches.