The $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year 2023 includes funding for the Plum Island Closure and Support Program (PICS), as well as written support for preserving the island.
According to an explanatory statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agreement will provide $13,466,000 to the PICS Program to continue the transition, closure and conveyance of all Plum Island real property and all related personal property prior to the transfer of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center's (PIADC) operational and programmatic missions to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas.
The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is also "encouraged to establish a cooperative agreement to administer funding for a facilitated process that can enable stakeholders to conduct an ecosystem study of Plum Island's native wildlife and natural habitat in the conservation area."
With the transition currently scheduled for completion in fiscal year 2024, S&T "shall continue to provide semi-annual briefings on the progress of these activities" and "also notify the committees in these briefings of any foreseeable issues with the continuation at NBAF of any DHS essential mission activities that were performed by the department at PIADC, along with steps that the department is considering to avoid interruption."
The Department of the Interior and General Services Administration (GSA) joined DHS in their explanatory statements expressing "support for the permanent conservation of Plum Island for the protection in perpetuity of its natural and cultural resources."
“The committees request that the Department of the Interior, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration, provide a briefing to the committees regarding the closure and disposal process for the island's permanent conservation, the possibility of interim ecological management, and options for permanent ownership of Plum Island, including management of and partnerships with State, Federal and Tribal entities, potential costs for managing the island, the status and schedule of cleanup and monitoring, and the procedures for a subsequent owner to invoke DHS's responsibility to ensure that DHS's certification that its remedial actions on Plum Island protect human health and the environment remains valid."
The GSA further continued that "DHS and GSA are encouraged to work expeditiously on the Plum Island Closure and Sale project and to consider a Federal conservation outcome for the island, should the Department of Interior or another Federal agency express an interest in acquiring the property through a Federal transfer for conservation and related activities."
Since 1954, the PIADC has served as the nation's premier defense against accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases including foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever. PIADC is the only laboratory in the nation that can work on live FMD virus.
However, the United States currently does not have a laboratory facility with maximum biocontainment (BSL-4) space to study high-consequence zoonotic diseases affecting large livestock. The Kansas-based NBAF will be the first facility in the country to provide BSL-4 laboratories capable of housing cattle and other large livestock. NBAF also will feature a Biologics Development Module for the pilot scale development of vaccines and other countermeasures, augmenting laboratory research and accelerating technology transfer to industry partners.
More than 120 organizational members in the Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC) have been working for more than a decade to ensure the island's permanent conservation.
In 2022, PPIC began a campaign to have Plum Island declared a National Monument by President Biden via the 1906 Antiquities Act. More than 1,600 supporters have sent letters to the White House, including Senators Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and Kirsten Gillibrand.
"This significant action by Congress brings us one step closer to our goal of designating Plum Island a National Monument for the purposes of ecological conservation, historical preservation, and the discovery and celebration of our shared cultural heritage," said Leah Lopez Schmalz, president of Save the Sound, which coordinates the PPIC. "Plum Island truly is a national treasure. We are thankful that our leaders in Congress recognize that fact and have declared their support by calling for a Congressional briefing."