If you were not one of the thirty-seven lucky members of SoutholdVOICE whose name was chosen from a lottery at the June 21st SV Board Meeting, then you missed out.
On June 23rd, Chairman John Betsch notified by e-mail the fortunate members of SV and requested that they respond by June 24th with the requisite information that Homeland Security needed in order to allow anyone to visit Plum Island. That clearance allowed us to check-in at the parking lot gate, to show a picture ID (driver’s license or passport) and receive a visitor’s badge on a red lanyard. After parking the car, wearing this badge, you could pass on to the armed HS “guys in black” who checked our pocketbooks and picnic baskets for cellphones, cameras, cellphones with cameras, etc. and ushered us aboard the P.I. Ferry.
A picturesque, calm ride followed and soon we were ushered ashore on the island and boarded a bus that carried us to Building 100, the Reception Center. There we were directed into the auditorium where we met Kristine Garland, our “hostess/tour guide” for the day. Before Dr. Larry Barrett, the Director of Plum Island Animal Disease Center, arrived, refreshments were made available and soon after the program began.
To begin with, the credentials of all those persons who spoke to and with us were hugely impressive. We learned the P.I. facility itself had just received an award. “This is the biggest news in FMD research in the last 50 years,” said PIADC Director Dr. Larry Barrett. “It’s the first licensed FMD vaccine that can be manufactured on the U.S. mainland, and it supports a vaccine-to-live strategy in FMD outbreak response.”
Additionally, several of the staff had been recognized with awards for the excellent research they had done on the eradication of foot and mouth disease and the creation of a vaccine which had never existed before and is now available for use throughout the world where this disease affects the lives of millions of people. The presentations of Dr. Barrett and Dr. Luis Rodriguez of the Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit, USDA were both informative and fascinating.
Following the morning’s lectures, we visited the BSL-2 and Safety Labs where Dr. Max Rasmussen of the targeted advanced development group and Senior Consultant Fahim Manzur explained how the labs work, how research material is stored and how the lab research waste is processed so that there is no threat to the public.
We had a break for lunch (our personal responsibility to have brought with us) and time to visit the “gift shop” if we wished to buy t-shirts, caps, postcards.
A group photo was taken before the next leg of our journey; we boarded a bus with a driver Chris Mitchell who has been at P.I. for many years. He had lots of stories to tell, one of which was to point out the grave of the only person to be buried on P.I. (except perhaps Native Americans). The deceased gentleman’s name was Colonel Thomas Gardiner, believed to have died of smallpox elsewhere and taken to P.I. in 1786 to isolate his remains from the population in his community
The roads that circumvent the island are not fully paved and were sometimes a little rugged. We got to see the old buildings from Fort Terry, an Army base beginning with the Spanish American War. Several of the cannon batteries could still be seen from the bus as we passed. The most exciting part of the bus tour was the stop near a bluff from which we could see numerous seals swimming, sunning and playing in the water.
Back to the ferry landing, a warm goodbye from our hostess/tour guide and bus driver. Inspection by HS personnel to be sure we were not leaving with the remains of our lunch food and then the ferry back to Orient.
SV hopes to be able to do this for members again next year and most likely will. Be sure to put your name in for the lottery so you don’t miss the chance!
- F. Sladkus