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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mysterious Island For Sale

The classified ad might read: "Island for sale. Gem of a property, teeming with fish and wildlife, only a two-hour drive from nation's largest metro area. Features power plant, sewage treatment. Ripe for development."

What it might not say: "Site of animal disease research and germ warfare testing; old Army coastal defense post."

Plum Island held an open house of sorts for environmental leaders Wednesday as the federal government proceeds with plans to relocate its 50-year-old animal disease research laboratory to Kansas and sell the 840-acre pork chop-shaped island off the eastern tip of New York's Long Island.

The laboratory is modern and would not look out of place on any college campus, but the rest of the island is largely undeveloped with freshwater marshes, pristine beaches and seals resting on huge rocks just offshore. There is also an 1869 lighthouse (no longer in use) and buildings from a U.S. Army base that closed after World War II.

The visit was part of an ongoing effort by Plum Island brass to end the suspicion surrounding the island made famous in a 1997 Nelson DeMille best-selling book of the same name, and its mention as a possible home for Hannibal Lecter in the film "Silence of the Lambs."

"There has been, in the past, more secrecy about the facility," said lab director Dr. Larry Barrett, who noted more than a dozen community groups have visited this year. "This facility is not a threat to the nation, it's not a threat to anyone. The job here is to protect our nation against attacks on our livestock."

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