About a year ago, Congressman Tim Bishop and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced legislation that would keep the federal government from having to sell Plum Island as part if its decision to relocate the animal disease laboratory there to Manhattan, Kan.
That bill, introduced July 23, 2013, was referred to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, where it has remained ever since. The companion Senate bill was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works on July 16, 2013.
This Monday, Mr. Bishop and several other members of Congress sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees outlining an alternative to the sale of the island that would keep it in federal conservationists’ hands, and requesting repeal of the law that requires it be sold.
Mr. Bishop and his 12 co-signers point out in their letter that the revenue estimated to be raised by the sale of the island is a fraction of the cost of building the new facility in Kansas, and environmental leaders in Connecticut and on Long Island want to see the island preserved. Many environmentalists believe the island should be in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Parks Service.
Southold Town zoned the island last year so that it can only be used as a research facility and a wildlife preserve.
“The sale of Plum Island would be a critical mistake both from a research and an ecological standpoint,” said Mr. Bishop. “If this island is allowed to be developed by the highest bidder, the species that currently exist on the island, including multiple endangered species, could be irreparably harmed. We urge the GSA to use its standard method of disposing of excess property, which would allow another federal agency to take control of the property for preservation purposes.”
In their letter, the lawmakers said they believe the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Parks Service “would be interested in taking possession if given the opportunity,” but Congress has not even given them the option of determining if it is feasible for them to manage the island. The lawmakers also said they would help arrange a public-private partnership to allow non-profit preservation groups to help manage the island.
The GSA, or General Service Administration, is responsible for selling Plum Island on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, which currently manages the island.
Governor Andrew Cuomo also chimed in, saying the state is investigating the ecological needs of the island.
“While the state is committed to working together with the federal government to find the right path forward for the future of Plum Island, we believe the current plan being offered by the General Services Administration to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder could cause more harm than good,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Plum Island is home to unique natural resources that must be protected and at my direction, DEC is conducting a full biological inventory to identify the ecologically sensitive areas in need of preservation.”
“Plum Island is a priceless natural habitat that must be preserved and protected from development,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Once developed, this pristine land and the beautiful endangered species who call Plum Island home will never be the same. We have an opportunity, and responsibility, now to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the environmental and recreational benefits of this unique and priceless island.”