Coalition and lawmakers from 2 states fight to block sale of Plum Island

Coalition and lawmakers from 2 states fight to block sale of Plum Island



HARTFORD — Lawmakers from New York and Connecticut have joined environmental groups in ramping up efforts to block the federal government from Plum Island, which for years has housed a government animal disease research facility in Long Island Sound.

Members of Congress from both states asked the House and Senate Appropriations Committees this week not to provide any funding for the marketing or sale of Plum Island, which is part of New York state and is also home to rare birds, sea turtles and other animals.

The island is home to the USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center. In the past, the site was used for top-secret U.S. Army germ warfare research and studies that examined dangerous animal diseases.

“The 840-acre island is a critical habitat for over 200 bird species, many of which use the island as part of their north-south migration along the Atlantic flyway, and is the most important haul-out site for grey and harbor seals in southern New England,” the members of the House and Senate wrote.

Four bills have been filed in Congress to change a 2008 decision that authorized the sale of the island to help fund a new bioresearch center in Kansas, which is expected to open in 2022.

The General Services Administration, charged with facilitating a public auction of the island, agreed in August not to move forward until it conducts a second environmental impact study.

That decision came after environmental groups, known as the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, filed a lawsuit arguing that the original federal study was insufficient.

“They never consulted, as required by law, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Chris Cryder, the coalition’s coordinator, said Wednesday. “The real injustice that was done is that they also bypassed the normal process for handling government surplus property, which is to offer it first to sister agencies, then to states, then to counties or municipalities and finally to public auction.”

The legal case will continue, he said, with the goal of getting the GSA to commit to considering a conservation alternative to a public sale — if not for the entire island, then for the 80 percent that is not in the footprint of the research facility.

He said there is also a push to preserve the island’s lighthouse and the remains of Fort Terry, an installation built at the end of the 19th century to help protect Long Island Sound and New York.

“This is an exceptionally important island, especially from the point of wildlife,” Cryder said. “It’s become a de facto refuge over the past 70 years and some of our most imperiled species live there.”

Cryder said the coalition is making plans to bring together local, state, regional and federal interests later this fall or early winter for a summit meeting to come up with a detailed conservation plan for the island that could be proposed as an alternative to its sale.


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