Associated Press 08-10-06 Mississippi in running for new federal lab

Associated Press
Mississippi in running for new federal lab
Plum Island had studied animal ills
WASHINGTON - Plum Island, a government lab off New York's Long Island
where dangerous animal diseases have been studied since the 1950s, will not be
rebuilt, according to a list of possible replacement sites released Wednesday by
the government.
The Department of Homeland Security said 18 locations, some in Mississippi, are
now under consideration for a new $450 million, 400-employee replacement of
Plum Island.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Timothy Bishop, both Democrats, have
lobbied to keep Plum Island open.
Mississippi submitted three sites for consideration for the new lab. They are in
Madison County near Flora, in Hinds County near Byram and in Rankin County
near Brandon. A spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour said all three sites are still in
the running.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he'll
continue working with Barbour and with other members of the state's
congressional delegation to try to get the lab in Mississippi.
"Our success confirms the excellent reputation of our state universities and their
partners for conducting reliable scientific research of national importance,"
Cochran said after Mississippi made the list of finalists.
DHS officials said that the desire to keep the lab from expanding to more
dangerous, human-borne diseases kept Plum Island out of the running.
Bishop and Clinton want to see new efforts made to modernize the aging
facilities at the laboratory, which had been the scene of a protracted battle
between management and a maintenance workers' union.
DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said the new lab probably won't be completed for
years, and in the meantime they're spending $35 million on infrastructure,
equipment and security upgrades to Plum Island.
"We anticipate shifting some responsibilities from Plum Island to the new facility
but that's another seven years down the line," said Agen.
A 2003 congressional study found security flaws at the site but Homeland
Security officials have since said those concerns have been addressed.
A tiny pork chop-shaped piece of land off the eastern tip of Long Island's north
fork, Plum Island scientists have studied contagious animal diseases like footand-mouth disease and African swine fever for decades. The former Army base
is the only facility in the country that has vaccines for those diseases, making it a
potential target for terrorists.
The finalists for the lab announced Wednesday are in California, Georgia,
Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and
Wisconsin. DHS aims to narrow down the list of 18 sites by the end of this year.
Harley Moon, a former director of Plum Island who is now a professor
emeritus from Iowa State University, said that when he was at the Department
of Agriculture years ago there was a desire among many senior administrators to
close Plum Island but the political will was lacking.
There are also hazy legal issues that still have to be resolved, Moon said.
"I'm one who has urged that it should move away because it's too expensive to
operate there, but I could see where it's reasonable to leave the option open,"
said Moon.