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Community asked to support future preservation of Plum Island


The preservation of Plum Island will depend in large part on support from community members who oppose the federal government’s plans to sell it to the highest bidder, said Chris Cryder, special projects coordinator of the bi-coastal conservation group Save the Sound.

“Ultimately, you will be part of this equation,” Mr. Cryder told a group of nearly 30 people who assembled Saturday morning at the East Marion Fire House for a presentation hosted by the East Marion Community Association. “We need you. I believe very soon — this fall — that we will need you to reach out to your legislators.”

During the hour-long presentation, called “Preserving Plum Island for Future Generations,” Mr. Cryder delivered a brief overview of the history of the 840-acre island, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the General Services Administration.

The island houses the federally operated Animal Disease Research Center.

The island, which is on track to be sold to the highest bidder in order to offset the cost of a proposed state-of-the-art facility in Kansas, is also home to a vast number of rare and endangered wildlife. In addition to ospreys and seals, 218 bird species — including the vulnerable piping plover — and 16 rare plants inhabit the three-mile parcel, Mr. Cryder told attendees.

Using photographs taken by Robert Lorenz, Mr. Cryder presented a virtual tour of the island, 80 percent of which is undeveloped. The imagery included depictions of the island’s 96 acres of fresh wetlands, along with its forests, bogs and preponderance of dune systems.

“A virtual tour is so important because it enables people to see the natural resources like they’ve never been able to before,” said Louise Harrison of Peconic, a member of the Coalition to Save Plum Island’s steering committee who attended Saturday’s event.

For the past six months, Mr. Cryder has given numerous presentations like the one in East Marion to communities in nearby Rhode Island and Connecticut. On Saturday, he asked the public to write letters to local media outlets and to contact Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office expressing support for the continuing preservation of Plum Island.

“I personally believe it will come down the public will and getting a stronger coalition and taking action,” Mr. Cryder said, encouraging residents to attend the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation’s public hearing about the island’s future.

That meeting takes place Monday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Despite the federal government’s plans to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder — notably, Donald Trump has expressed interest in it — Mr. Cryder said he thinks New York State’s Coastal Zone Management Program could ultimately halt the sale of the island to a private entity.

“We believe that moving the island out of the federal realm and into the private end of things would actually be inconsistent with New York’s Coastal Zone Management Program,” Mr. Cryder said.

State officials have already expressed a desire to preserve Plum Island. In June, Sen. Charles Schumer introduced The Plum Island Conservation Act, a bill that would change an existing law to prevent the island from being sold to the highest bidder.

According to Mr. Schumer, the bill would also give the federal government the flexibility to transfer the sale of the island to a national environmental agency that would conserve it as a wildlife sanctuary, like the National Parks Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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

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Photo: Chris Cryder, special projects coordinator of Save the Sound, addresses participants at the East Marion Fire House Saturday morning.
(Credit: Rachel Young)