The federal government announced Friday that it plans to complete further environmental review ahead of its planned sale of Plum Island, a federally owned island that is home to an animal disease research laboratory that is being relocated to Kansas.
Environmentalists have long argued that the U.S General Services Administration’s 2013 Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the sale did not address requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.
GSA announced that the sale would now occur “no earlier than 2023.”
Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound and six other organizations and individuals filed suit against GSA and the Department of Homeland Security in July 2016, arguing that the original Environmental Impact Statement was insufficient and that the agencies violated provisions of the two aforementioned laws.
Soundkeeper, Inc., Peconic Baykeeper, Group for the East End, East Marion resident Ruth Ann Bramson, John Potter, and John Turner are the other plaintiffs in the case.
DHS and GSA served a motion to dismiss the suit in February 2017, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing in the case. In January of this year, Judge Denis Hurley of the Eastern District of New York found that the plaintiffs have standing and rejected the agencies’ arguments. The lawsuit is scheduled to be briefed in November of this year.
“We are extremely pleased that the GSA and Homeland Security have recognized their legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and that they are now prepared to remedy the radical deficiencies in their Environmental Impact Statement that we outlined in our lawsuit,” said Roger Reynolds, chief legal officer for CFE/Save the Sound. “That being said, they have not indicated any intent to fix the biggest problem: the Environmental Impact Statement’s outright failure to even consider conservation or a conservation sale as an alternative. Since there is no reason to think they intend to remedy this glaring and fundamental flaw, we will continue to advocate strongly for relief and permanent conservation of this irreplaceable land.”
According to GSA’s Notice of Intent to complete the SEIS, its purpose “will be to document conditions that have changed and new information that has become available since the publication of the FEIS and ROD.”
“Items to be studied and analyzed in the SEIS will include, but are not limited to the following: The biological inventory known as the “Biodiversity and Ecological Potential of Plum Island, New York”, also known as the Four-Seasons Study; any activities undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Plum Island; the zoning plan for Plum Island adopted by the Town of Southold in August 2013; the completion by DHS of a descriptive interpretation of Plum Island’s environmental condition, known as a Conceptual Site Model; ongoing environmental remediation and mission closure activities by DHS; activity undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Formerly Used Defense Site program; progress by DHS under Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act; and the availability of more definitive dates for the transfer of the PIADC mission off Plum Island and the sale of Plum Island,” according to the notice.
GSA and DHS plan to begin scoping for the SEIS in 2019, with notice given to interested parties and publication in the federal register. Once published, the new document will supersede the 2013 FEIS.