New East End Congressman Nicholas LaLota introduced his first piece of legislation March 14, the Plum Island National Monument Act, under which Congress could protect the island from development by making it a National Monument.

National Monument status can be conferred either by Congress or by the President under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

“For years, Plum Island has been an important piece of Suffolk County. After years of uncertainty, Congress acted in 2020 to prevent the sale and ensure the preservation of Plum Island,” said Mr. LaLota in a statement accompanying the bill. “My simple bill would permanently protect Plum Island by designating it as a national monument, thereby preventing the development and any damage to the unique environment. I am committed to seeing this legislation become law to support the best interests of our community.”

The bill, which had no co-sponsors when it was introduced, was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“The Preserve Plum Island Coalition greatly appreciates Congressman LaLota’s commitment to protecting Plum Island, as evidenced by his introduction of legislation to designate it as a National Monument,” said John Turner, spokesperson for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, in a March 20 statement. “With this newly introduced bill, the permanent protection of Plum Island now is being considered by the full suite of federal decision makers — Senators, members of the House of Representatives, the White House, and the relevant agencies. We strongly support this goal and look forward to working with Congressman LaLota’s office, his House colleagues, and our region’s Senators to achieve permanent protection for Plum Island, which it richly deserves.”

The bill, H.R. 1584, establishes Plum Island as a “national monument for the purpose of ecological conservation, historical preservation, and the discovery and celebration of our shared cultural heritage.”

If passed, it would grant the Secretary of the Interior administrative jurisdiction to carry out the Act by entering into memoranda of understanding with relevant federal departments or agencies. It requires a management plan within three years of funding being granted, which must be submitted to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate.

After years of speculation as to whether the federal government, the state or private non-profits would step up to manage the property in the future, here has been growing support in Congress for the federal government playing a large role in the preservation of the island. It is is currently owned by the Department of Homeland Security and is home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center, whose functions are slated to be taken over later this year by a new laboratory in Kansas.

Over the past year, more than 1,700 supporters, including Senators Schumer, Blumenthal, Murphy, and Gillibrand; the full Long Island delegation to the New York State Legislature; the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature; and every local public official on Long Island’s East End have sent letters to the White House requesting National Monument status for Plum Island.

Language inserted by local lawmakers in the federal omnibus spending bill signed by President Joe Biden just before Christmas of 2022 directed 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.”

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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