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Congress blocks federal funds from marketing sale of Plum Island

07/26/2018 6:00 AM |

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill Friday in the latest attempt to save Plum Island from being sold.

Offered by Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the legislation allows Congress to stop the General Services Administration from using appropriations to market the sale of Plum Island “while we continue to fight for a permanent solution that will preserve the island for conservation and education,” Mr. Zeldin said on the floor Friday morning.

This latest bill goes hand in hand with legislation put forth by Mr. Zeldin in 2016 and 2017, when Congress twice approved his Plum Island Preservation Act unanimously. The U.S. Senate has not yet acted on the legislation, though Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut have all expressed support for the bill.

A source close to Ms. Gillibrand’s office indicated that she has plans to introduce an identical amendment in the Senate in the coming weeks.

Addressing the House of Representatives last Friday, Mr. Zeldin referred to Plum Island as a critical resource. “Approximately 90 percent [of Plum Island] has been sheltered from development, protecting the diverse ecosystem of the Long Island Sound and critical habitats for migratory birds, marine mammals and rare plants,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Allowing for continued research, public access and permanent preservation of the island is a priority shared by elected officials, conservation groups and local residents on both sides of the Sound.”

In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees operations on Plum Island, announced that the Plum Island Animal Disease Center will move to a new facility in Manhattan, Kansas, that is expected to be operational by 2022. To offset the cost, federal officials announced in 2008 that the island would be sold to the top bidder. At the time, potential bidders for the island included Donald Trump, who wanted to build a golf course on the 840 acres. Southold Town then approved new zoning districts on Plum Island: A research district that includes the existing lab and a conservation district to prevent development on 600 acres.

Offsetting the cost, Mr. Zeldin said, would be a “false assumption.”

“The true value of the land, including cleanup costs, still are not clear,” he said.

“The island is of regional significance and a unique treasure that should be protected, not sold to the highest bidder,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell on Monday. “The Congressman has shown real leadership on this time and time again. Now it’s time for our senators to show some themselves.”

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