Tag Archive | "Plum Island"

It’s Only Natural

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A Plum of An Island

A substantial report, entitled, “Biodiversity and Ecological Potential of Plum Island,” was recently published in book form, richly complete with maps, charts and data, by the New York Natural Heritage Program. (NYNHP — a partnership between the NYS DEC and The Nature Conservancy.) The study makes a very convincing and exciting case that the potential is truly great for the 840-acre island as an important wildlife preserve and place for the public, to borrow Shakespeare’s words, “to walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.” That is, if all of the island, or a major part of it were to become a preserve. As I wrote in the Express in January 2011, Plum’s future may be up for grabs. The U.S. Congress made a decision to sell the island, possibly to developers. As the NYNHP report says, today, “The future ownership and management of Plum Island is uncertain.”

Plum Island is nothing less than a biological/ecological cornucopia. The largest number — more than 600 — of seals that haul out from December to April in New York State are on its shores. Right whales (so named probably because the gentle creatures were the “right” or easy kind for men to hunt and kill), humpback whales, beluga whales, dolphins and 74 species of fish swim in the waters that surround it. These waters include Gardiners Bay, L.I. Sound, and Block Island Sound — all of which, of course, are contiguous with the Atlantic Ocean. On the island are some 420 species of animals, including foxes, muskrats, otters, beavers, and five kinds of turtles. There are 187 species of birds known to be on the island, including four kinds of heron, great and snowy egrets, double-crested cormorants and osprey. However the bird population is now threatened by raccoons, which somehow made their way to the island (but not by swimming) around 1995 and are devouring birds’ eggs. The NYNHP report strongly recommends that the raccoons be removed from the island.

In addition, “Plum Island, with 16 recorded rare plant species, has one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in New York State.”

There are 25 “natural communities” on the island, among the largest of which are: marine shrubland (124 acres), maritime forest (119 acres), and maritime beach and dunes (73 acres). And the NYNHP study cites that “The shoreline is characterized by wide sandy beaches … [and] steep cliffs and bluffs.”

In addition, the report points out that a number of species that once lived on the island can be reintroduced to it. They include barn owls and green frogs. Other species found on nearby lands could be introduced or reintroduced to the island, including “10 species of frogs and eight species of salamanders.”

In 1854, when far less of America had been developed, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We can never have enough of nature.” How much more urgently true this is 158 years later!

More information about Plum Island can be had by calling the Nature Conservancy in East Hampton: 631/329-7689.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s address and phone number are: 155 Pine Lawn Road, Suite 250N, Melville NY  11747, 631-249-2825; U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer’s address and telephone number are: 145 Pine Lawn Road, Suite 300, Melville NY 11747. 631-753-0978.


RICHARD GAMBINO fell in life-long love with the natural magnificence of the East End when he first saw it on a trip to Montauk in 1954, when he was 15 years old. He would like enough of it to be left to love when his grandkids become teenagers.


Sitting Duck


by Karl Grossman

There’s a sitting duck for terrorists right off the coast of Long Island. And al Qaeda knows about this. So does the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which, for security reasons primarily, wants this potential target, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, eliminated  and its work done elsewhere.

But there’s resistance. Congressman Tim Bishop is concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs in his district. And livestock interests in Kansas are worried that if the center’s work is shifted there, an outbreak could impact on livestock.

Aafia Siddiqui was convicted by a jury in Manhattan in February of attempted murder.

Dubbed “Lady Al Qaeda,” she holds a doctorate in neuroscience from MIT. Among the documents in her possession when she was captured in Afghanistan in 2008 were hand-written notes about a “mass-casualty attack” and a list of targets: Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building—and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

At the center, on 840-acre Plum Island a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point, research is conducted into virulent animal diseases—including foot-and-mouth disease. The diseases  include some that impact on both animals and people.

Pakistan-born Dr. Siddiqui was, when captured, the FBI’s most wanted woman in the world. Found with her, too, were jars of poisonous chemicals and details on chemical, biological and radiological weapons. A relative of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, she was convicted of shooting at Americans who had come to question her.

It was not the first time the Plum Island center appeared as an al Qaeda target. In 2002, U.S. Army commandos and CIA agents found a dossier on it in a raid on the Afghanistan residence of Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a nuclear physicist from Pakistan and an associate of Osama bin Laden. .

The next year, 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report about terrorism and Plum Island. GAO declared there is a substantial risk that “an adversary might try to steal pathogens” from the center and use them against people or animals in the U.S.  It noted that a camel pox strain researched at the center could be converted into “an agent as threatening as smallpox,” and the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus studied there could be “developed into a human biowarfare agent.”

It emphasized that the center, which the DHS took over from the Department of Agriculture in 2003, “was not designed to be a highly secure facility.”

And it can never be. Plum Island sits exposed amid busy marine traffic lanes. The main laboratory is the big building that ferries taking passengers between Orient Point and New London, Connecticut pass directly in front of. It is not giving away any secret—this has been repeatedly noted—that from a boat terrorists armed with shoulder-fired rockets would have a clear shot. A plane could dive into the laboratory.

Facing this reality of security, DHS thereafter announced it would build a new National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) with, later, Manhattan, Kansas picked as the site, and the Plum Island center would be closed, its work transferred there.

DHS has been proceeding with the closure—but there’s no complete certainty it will happen. Mr. Bishop recently declared that “rather than pour hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down a sinkhole in Kansas and open the Pandora’s box of decommissioning Plum Island, we should abandon NBAF and make use of existing facilities that continue to serve this nation well.”

Buoying the livestock trade groups opposing the NBAF in Kansas, GAO last year estimated $1 billion in livestock losses from an outbreak at it.

But what of an al Qaeda attack on Plum Island? It sits halfway between Boston and New York City. Work on highly toxic pathogens should only be done at a heavily guarded facility inland, perhaps constructed underground—not off a major population center of the U.S.

Ole Miss, Not Plum Island

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By Karl Grossman

 “Looks like Mississippi for me,” said the woman sitting next to me at the recent public meeting held by Department of Homeland Security on the possibility of a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility being sited on Plum Island.

The comment of the woman, a Plum Island Animal Disease Center employee, came as former Congresswoman and Brooklyn DA Elizabeth Holtzman, an Orient resident, blasted Homeland Security for considering Plum Island for a facility that would function at the highest danger level set for biological research, Bio-Safety Level 4. At that level, says the government, research is conducted into life-threatening diseases for both animals and humans “for which there is no known vaccine or therapy.”

“Absurd on its face,” Ms. Holtzman called Homeland Security’s analysis of Plum Island as the site. “This is too grave a danger to human life.”

Indeed, Plum Island, a mile-and-a-half off Long Island, is just off the Boston-to-New York population center of the U.S.

There are five other locations being considered but there is concern at most of them of an accident impacting on areas where there is much livestock.

As a statement on the website “No NBAF in Kansas” declares: “We must continue our protest of this NBAF facility the DHS is trying to get into Manhattan, Kansas, where they would introduce FMD [foot-and-mouth disease] and some of the most dangerous pathogens in the world. These pathogens could wreck our livestock industry…The lab should not be placed on the mainland, but should be built on Plum Island, which would offer better protection due to its isolation, and due also to the fact that it is not in the middle of a large concentration of livestock…This research is important, but not in the heart of Kansas, which is one of the top beef producing states in the United States.”

A website in North Carolina, “Stop The NBAF,” includes a statement from a state senator, Doug Berger, who both challenges foot-and-mouth disease research being “done safely on the mainland” and scores Homeland Security for “its lack of responsiveness” in its process for possibly siting the facility in Butner, North Carolina.

Homeland Security “during the selection process has so eroded public confidence that there is absolutely no trust between the local community and Homeland Security,” Senator Berger states. North Carolina and Long Island have this in common.

The place where there seems to be strong support is Mississippi. “Today, Mississippi finds itself inching closer to the opportunity of a generation,” declared a recent statement of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. “The construction and operation of the $500 million NBAF would create hundreds of skilled jobs and would likely spur a biotechnology boom in Mississippi.” With Cochran on both the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Agriculture Committee, he has influence in bringing the facility to Mississippi.

The comment of the woman alongside me, “Looks like Mississippi for me,” stems from officials of Homeland Security saying that if the facility is sited elsewhere than Plum Island, it would close the half-century-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center and merge it with the new facility.

Ms. Holtzman was among the long line of speakers at the meeting speaking strongly against the facility coming to Plum Island. There was a statement from Congressman Tim Bishop that: “Simply put…Plum Island’s proximity to major metropolitan areas on Long Island and Connecticut make it an unsuitable location for BSL-4 research.” (The Plum Island Animal Disease Center runs at BSL-3.)

Gwynn Schroeder of Cutchogue spoke about the Millstone nuclear plants being eight miles away, and Plum Island in the federal “emergency zone” for Millstone.

Several speakers warned of terrorists hitting the highly exposed island. The day of the hearing came news that an Al Quaeda figure was arrested in Afghanistan with material on the New York City subway system, Times Square—and Plum Island.

And there was great concern voiced over the impossibility of evacuation on highly-populated Long Island in the event of an outbreak if the new facility if it is located on Plum Island.

The site for the facility? As the state’s official song is titled, “Go, Mississippi.”