New Senate bill would halt the sale of Plum Island to highest bidder

06/28/2015 10:00 AM |

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A new Senate bill would prevent Plum Island from being sold to the highest bidder and pave the way for ownership of the mostly undeveloped parcel to be transferred to a federal environmental agency. 

The Plum Island Conservation Act, introduced this week by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), would change an existing law to prevent the General Services Administration, which oversees the island in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, from selling to the highest bidder.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our senators who have been pushing to preserve Plum Island for the past number of years and this is a huge step in the right direction,” said Leah Schmalz, program director of Save the Sound, the bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

According to Mr. Schumer, the bill would also give the GSA the flexibility to transfer the sale of the island to a national environmental agency that would conserve it as a wildlife sanctuary. In addition, the legislation requires the GSA and DHS to work with federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency to make recommendations to Congress about the agency best suited for “administrative jurisdiction” over the island.

In addition to Mr. Schumer, the “Plum Island Conservation Act” has the public support of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Connecticut senators Chris Murphy (D) and Richard Blumenthal (D).

“The worst thing we can do is rip apart this 840-acre environmental setting and destroy or threaten the lives of species who live there,” Mr. Schumer said in a press release, adding that the National Parks Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should acquire the island.

“I am confident that these federal agencies would commit to preserving Plum Island and protecting the property from being destroyed,” he said.

The island, which is home to the federally operated Animal Disease Research Center, is on track to be sold to the highest bidder to help offset the cost of building a newer, state-of-the-art facility in Kansas.

Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council and a member of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, called the parcel, which is roughly 80 percent undeveloped, “unique” and said it needs to be maintained as such.

“When you look at 220 species of birds either living on Plum Island or migrating there, it’s a very unique place where the beaches are untouched by development — and you don’t see that in many other places,” he said.

The island is home to a number of species, including osprey, bank swallows, piping plovers and many plants, Mr. Schumer said. A “vast number” of species could be impacted if the island is developed more than it already is, including the endangered Atlantic Ridley sea turtle.

“The next step is trying to find the right solution for preservation of the island,” Mr. Toedter said.

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