MINEOLA, N.Y. – A lawsuit filed by environmental groups seeks to block the sale of Plum Island, home to the nation’s only animal disease testing laboratory.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court on Long Island by Save the Sound, a program of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and others.
The federal government plans to sell the 840-acre Plum Island, located off the northeastern coast of Long Island, and move the lab to Kansas by 2022. In addition to the environmental groups, elected officials in Connecticut and New York have introduced legislation in Congress seeking to block the proposed sale.
The lawsuit argues two federal agencies — the General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the island — failed to properly examine all options for the sale when they prepared environmental impact statements.
It says the agencies “misconstrued their statutory directive, interpreting their authority to only permit a public auction of the entirety of Plum Island to the highest bidder, thereby necessarily excluding a conservation sale from their alternatives analysis.”
Representatives for the GSA and DHS said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
The agencies “are violating several federal laws in their relentless effort to put the valuable environmental and cultural resources of Plum Island on the auction block,” said Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound.
“They have had ample time and opportunity to fix these failings and to develop conservation alternatives, but still they choose to turn a blind eye,” she said.
The environmentalists say the island shouldn’t be sold because it is home to several endangered bird species, including roseate terns, and piping plovers. The lawsuit also argues there are federally listed or endangered marine species in the waters surrounding Plum Island.
They include the Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle, Atlantic (Kemp’s) Ridley sea turtle, green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle and the Atlantic sturgeon.
For decades, researchers have studied infectious animal diseases on the island, 100 miles east of New York City. Congress voted in 2009 to close the aging laboratory, which opened in 1954 on property that once housed a Spanish-American War-era U.S. Army base. The 2009 bill envisioned using proceeds from the sale to defray the costs of moving operations to a new laboratory at Kansas State University.
There’s been no estimate on what Plum Island could fetch at auction, but some lawmakers insist it will barely dent the estimated $1.25 billion cost for the new laboratory.