The federal omnibus spending bill for 2023 passed by Congress just before Christmas expresses “support for the permanent conservation of Plum Island for the protection in perpetuity of its natural and cultural resources.”

The federally owned island, managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is home to a more than 65-year-old animal disease laboratory slated to close in 2023 after a replacement facility, the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, is fully operational.

When the new facility was first announced a decade ago, federal legislation had directed that the 840-acre island be sold at auction to the highest bidder, though Congress had rescinded that portion of the legislation in 2020.

The Preserve Plum Island Coalition, a group of 121 organizations, many of which are environmental non-profits, has been working for much of the past decade to ensure the island is preserved.

In 2022, the Coalition launched a campaign to ask President Joe Biden to declare the island a National Monument, which could be managed in partnership with an environmental non-profit agency.

The Coalition has documented the island’s natural and historical treasures, including piping plover and 228 other bird species, and hundreds of harbor and gray seals that overwinter in the waters surrounding the island. In all, they’ve documented 111 species “of conservation concern” on the island, along with the Fort Terry army base, dating to 1897, and the Plum Island Lighthouse, a stately stone lighthouse similar to the one at Cedar Point in Gardiners Bay.

The federal spending bill directs the Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, and the General Services Administration to “provide a briefing to the Committees regarding the closure and disposal process for the island’s permanent conservation, the possibility of interim ecological management, and options for permanent ownership of Plum Island, including management of and partnerships with State, Federal, and Tribal entities, potential costs for managing the island, the status and schedule of cleanup and monitoring, and the procedures for a subsequent owner to invoke DHS’s responsibility to ensure that DHS’s certification that its remedial actions on Plum Island protect human health and the environment remains valid.”

On Dec. 29, 2022, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition thanked Senators Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and Kirsten Gillibrand “for their enduring commitment to the preservation of Plum Island and for shepherding this language through the budget process.”

“This provision is a logical and highly significant next step in the Coalition’s more than decade-long effort to secure the permanent protection of Plum Island,” said Coalition spokesperson John Turner. “We thank our Congressional champions for their collective leadership on this important issue. Their provision in the budget bill is a most wonderful holiday present.”

“We think this is a vital step to reach our goal of ensuring the preservation of Plum Island,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. ‘We will continue and not stop until we are successful. This moves us closer to that goal.”

“When Congress asks for a briefing in a budget measure, it highlights the need for a high level of coordination and alacrity in reaching a desired goal,” said Louise Harrison, Long Island natural areas manager at Save the Sound. “There’s unanimity in the goal of preserving Plum Island; pushing the proverbial ‘devil’ out of the details will help everyone get there faster. We are extremely appreciative of the senators for keeping Plum Island’s needs in mind during the difficult and intense budget process. We look forward to the agencies’ report.”

“The appropriations language in the omnibus spending bill for Plum Island is clear and reflects the value of preserving this historic and ecologically important island, and its significance for the entire nation,” said North Fork Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.

“This federal funding legislation demonstrates that the preservation of Plum Island is truly within reach, and we couldn’t be more excited about this critical progress,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End. “We applaud the sustained efforts of our elected leaders from New York and Connecticut, as well as the diverse array of community, conservation, and cultural advocates who have passionately championed this effort for more than a decade.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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