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New Marine III zoning to protect future of Plum Island ferry terminal

The Southold Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a new Marine III zoning district for the Plum Island Ferry Terminal in Orient.

The roughly 9-acre property is currently zoned Marine II. The new zone, Supervisor Scott Russell has said in previous meetings, was discussed at a code committee meeting to preempt the future closure of the research facility and sale of the 840-acre Plum Island.

Bob DeLuca of East Marion, speaking as president of Group for the East End, commended the board for exhibiting leadership. Development of the nine-acre Orient property, he said, has been of concern to residents for some time.

“The MII zone could be fairly significantly developed if it were allowed to go into private hands,” he said. “One of the things I can tell you from first-hand experience with our friends at the General Services Administration is, in one of the early meetings, the question arose whether or not Plum Island could be sold in parts.” Mr. DeLuca said buyers may not be interested in the whole island, but merely parts, including the Orient property.

“The board is taking the affirmative action, I think, which is necessary here, to ensure that parcel continues on at a purpose that it currently has, which is to get people to and from that island, to get materials to and from that island … It assures that while the larger island is sort of being debated, that this piece of property doesn’t slip through the cracks.”

Under the revised proposal, the only permitted use in the Marine III district would be ferry terminals for service to and from Plum Island.

Accessory uses, according to town attorney Bill Duffy, would include ticket offices, waiting areas, a snack bar, offices, storage sheds and museums.

Louise Harrison, New York Natural Areas Coordinator for environmental nonprofit Save the Sound, supported creation of the Marine III district “for the express purpose of providing a waterfront location … for ferry service to and from Plum Island.” Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), members of the North Fork Environmental Council, Gwynn Schroeder of the North Fork Audobon Society and former Town Board candidate Bob Hanlon of Orient expressed support for the new zoning district.

“It’s very fragile down there, it’s very small,” said Venetia Hands of the Orient Association. “We’ve had all sorts of issues around parking and ferries and traffic, as you know. When you had the foresight to zone Plum Island itself the way that you have, I think this was originally in there and then it got cut out and separated and  we’ve been concerned ever since that; we needed to do something here.”

Mark Woolley, the district director for Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), said the congressman “wholeheartedly support[s] local control, whether it’s with Southold or some other municipality.” He stressed that the congressman has no interest in selling Plum Island, and said he plans to fight the sale until the end. Mr. Woolley also said the congressman is working closely with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on related legislation.

“We believe in local control and we believe you’ve gotten it right this far,” he said.

The only letter of opposition received, according to Mr. Russell and Mr. Ghosio, was one from the U.S. General Services Administration that was read into the record. Mr. Russell said it offered no specifics.

Photo caption: Louise Harrison speaks at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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