by Beth Young
As the federal government’s plans to sell Plum Island chug along in snail-paced time, the East End’s county legislators, town supervisors and village mayors are asking New York State to intervene.
The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo April 26 asking the state to declare the sale inconsistent with the state’s Coastal Zone Management Act, which sets policies to protect natural and historic resources and shores up the state’s mission to provide public access in coastal waters and along shorelines surrounding the state.
The Suffolk County Legislature also agreed May 16 to send a similar letter to Governor Cuomo’s office, stating that the sale “could be detrimental to our coastal resources and would be in direct conflict with coastal policies adopted by Southold Town and the State of New York.”
“There is unanimity among elected officials, municipalities and conservation groups on the East End and in Suffolk County that Plum Island should be preserved for future generations,” said North Fork County Legislator Al Krupski, whose district is home to Plum Island. “It is terribly short-sighted for the federal government to consider selling this national asset.”
Advocates are asking the governor’s office to make clear to the federal government that the sale of the island is not consistent with the state’s coastal policies, before the federal agencies charged with the sale issue a consistency determination, which could include language stating the sale is consistent with state policies, without the state’s input.
The state’s Department of State, headed by the governor, administers the state’s coastal management policies.
“Plum Island’s importance stretches through all East End communities. With its many coastal resources, such as habitat for seals and endangered birds, historical sites, and a research campus that now provides approximately 200 local jobs, it is a critical part of East End identity and a great source of pride,” said Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Dougherty, who serves as chairman of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association. “We all agree Plum Island needs long-term protection and we will work collaboratively to support our regional gem.”
The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association includes the supervisors of the five East End towns and 10 incorporated villages.
The Supervisors and Mayors Association also sent letters to U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Lee Zeldin suggesting keeping the existing laboratory and associated infrastructure that covers 20 percent of Plum Island as a research facility and preserving the remainder of the island, zoned a conservation district by Southold Town, as a wildlife refuge to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On April 27, Mr. Zeldin re-introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would suspend the congressional mandate to sell the island to the highest bidder. Efforts to suspend that mandate date back to former Congressman Tim Bishop’s original introduction of a similar legislation in 2013. New York senators have not yet taken up the cause in the U.S. Senate.
Governor Cuomo has taken on the federal government over its actions in the Long Island Sound in the past, threatening in December 2016 to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its designation of a dredge spoil dumping site in eastern Long Island Sound.
“Ever-growing support from local elected officials supports our conviction that there is a pivotal role for Governor Cuomo in saving Plum Island,” said Save the Sound’s New York natural areas coordinator, Louise Harrison. “What make the East End everything we hold dear are the coastline and coastal conditions that help our region thrive in every way imaginable. Plum Island’s ecological, historical, and cultural attributes need to be preserved and its infrastructure used for another kind of research after the animal disease center closes – hopefully research that takes advantage of the island’s unique location where Long Island Sound and the Peconic Estuary come together, supporting amazing fish and wildlife.”
The state has 13 coastal policies that apply specifically to the Long Island Sound region, where Plum Island is located, five of which Plum Island preservation advocates believe apply directly to Plum Island.
The first of those policies is to “foster a pattern of development in the Long Island Sound coastal area that enhances community character, preserves open space, makes efficient use of infrastructure, makes beneficial use of a coastal location, and minimizes adverse effects of development.”
Other policies include preserving historic resources, enhancing visual quality and protecting scenic resources, protecting and restoring the quality and function of the Long Island Sound ecosystem, and providing for “public access to, and recreational use of, coastal waters, public lands, and public resources of the Long Island Sound coastal area.”
“The Preserve Plum Island Coalition is pleased to see that our local leaders are fighting for the future of Plum Island,” said Preserve Plum Island Coalition spokesman John Turner. ”We look forward to working with them and with our congressional delegation during the upcoming year to ensure the beaches and bluffs, terns and plovers, and turtles and whales of the island are protected.”