Federal judge denies motion to dismiss Plum Island lawsuit

Environmentalists who filed a lawsuit against two federal agencies in an attempt to block the prospective sale of Plum Island to the highest bidder celebrated a victory Thursday when a federal district court judge denied a motion to dismiss.

The defendants in the case — the U.S. General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, along with the heads of the agencies — issued three arguments in support of the motion to dismiss, all of which were denied by district judge Denis R. Hurley in the Eastern District Court of New York.

The coalition that filed the lawsuit in July 2016 includes Save the Sound, Peconic Baykeeper, Group for the East End and others.

“Judge Hurley’s decision is an early and important victory for everyone who believes Plum Island is a critical part of our nation’s natural heritage that should not be auctioned off like a piece of meat to the highest bidder,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, in a press release.

The lawsuit alleges the federal government has violated environmental laws by failing to consider conservation as an alternative as it attempts to recoup some of the expense of relocating the existing animal research center to a more than $1 billion facility it is building in Kansas, The Suffolk Times previously reported. Environmentalists have expressed interest in turning Plum Island — home to several rare and endangered plants and animals — into a federal wildlife refuge, a move that has been met with support from lawmakers in New York and Connecticut.

The defendant’s motion to dismiss centered around three arguments, the first being that the case was not ripe for review because the agency could do further studies. The second argument alleged there was no injury for the plaintiffs and the third argument stated the could should not consider the claim because it could become moot.

The court rejected all three motions and stated the court would hear the matter because there was no guarantee that the government would resolve the complaints without the court’s intervention.

“We’ll now have the opportunity to present our full case to the court and ask that the sale of the island be halted until the agencies complete a proper environmental review in accordance with federal law,” said Roger Reynolds, the chief legal officer for Save the Sound, in a statement.

Photo caption: Environmentalists announce the lawsuit at a press event in July 2016. (Credit: Krysten Massa, file)

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