When the Department of Homeland Security authorized funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in 2009, proceeds from the sale of New York’s Plum Island were expected to entirely offset the cost of the Kansas-based lab.
Today, however, local opposition to the sale of Plum Island adds to longstanding questions about funding for the proposed animal disease lab, which has an estimated price tag of around $1.2 billion. NBAF, now under construction in Manhattan, Kan., is intended to replace the 60-year-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center. And Congress is obligated by law to sell Plum Island and confer the proceeds to NBAF.
But Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York, Rep. Timothy Bishop, of New York, and Rep. Joe Courtney, of Connecticut, recently urged President Obama to issue an executive order to block the sale of Plum Island. The Democratic congressmen say new zoning restrictions recently passed by the town board on Plum Island render the property worthless to would-be developers of the sandy beaches just off the coast of Long Island. Conservationists say the property is essential to sustain the habitats of a number of birds and wildlife species.
In a correspondence to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the lawmakers argued that the sale of Plum Island was not worth the cost: “Clearly, any revenue realized from selling Plum Island into private hands would be greatly outweighed by the loss to the American people of the island’s true value as an environmental treasure.”
Officials in Kansas insist NBAF is on track, based largely on the $713 million the Obama administration included in the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget. But funding has been stalled. Construction on the project has been limited to the preliminary first phase - a self-contained power plant required by law.
The Kansas congressional delegation declined to talk about what the Plum Island developments mean for NBAF.
Tara O’Toole, former undersecretary of DHS, testified in 2012 that the down economy as well as a 30 percent increase in the cost of the NBAF project meant that “the sale of Plum Island is not likely to provide adequate funds in the foreseeable future.”