Plum Island won’t get any closer to being sold in 2020, after the federal Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Appropriations Bill was signed into law Dec. 20.
Plum Island, which is the site of a federal animal disease research laboratory, is an 840-acre island in Long Island Sound just off of Orient that provides habitat for several federally endangered and threatened species, including piping plover, while the waters surrounding the island provide fish for endangered roseate terns and are home to federally-listed marine species such as Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon. Seals haul out on its rocks in one of the largest such assemblages in southern New England.
Earlier this week, the United States Senate passed the appropriations bill, which included language already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives defunding any Government Services Administration activities involving the sale of Plum Island for the next year. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law Friday night.
This is the first time that a bill aimed at protecting Plum Island has passed both the House and Senate and made its way to the President.
While the bill prevents the GSA, the federal agency tasked with auctioning Plum Island to the highest bidder, from using any of its funding to market, process, or sell Plum Island over the next year, it is only a temporary delay until 2021.
The Preserve Plum Island Coalition said in a press release Saturday that it will continue efforts for permanent protection.
Lawmakers from both sides of the Long Island Sound and both sides of the aisle have been working to delay a sale and ultimately repeal the 2009 law that initiated the process for the federal government to sell Plum Island. The sale was required as part of the bill authorizing the relocation of the animal disease research facility on Plum Island to Manhattan, Kansas. The facility under construction there is expected to open in 2022 or 2023.
“I’ve long maintained that the sale of Plum Island would be a huge loss for Long Island and New York,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York. “The 840-acres of unique habitat, which is home to a variety of rare wildlife must be preserved. This new delay in the sale of Plum Island is a step in the right direction, and I remain committed to continuing to fight tooth and nail until we prevent this ecological treasure from ever falling into the hands of a developer who would rip apart its natural beauty.”
“Not only does Plum Island offer our region a diverse wildlife and ecosystem and critical habitat for migratory birds, marine mammals, and rare plants, but it is also an essential cultural and historical resource,” said New York Congressman Lee Zeldin, whose district includes Plum Island. “The current law, which mandates the sale of the island to the highest bidder, is the wrong path forward, because it does not provide for public access and permanent preservation of the island, or the continued use of the research infrastructure. The state-of-the-art research facility at Plum Island must not go to waste, and preserving this island’s natural beauty while maintaining a research mission will continue to provide important economic and environmental benefits to Long Island.”
“After years of advocacy, we are thrilled that Congress put the brakes on Plum Island’s sale,” said Leah Schmalz, chief program officer for Save the Sound. “But we aren’t counting our piping plover chicks before they hatch. Much work remains as we all continue fighting for the permanent protection of this historically and ecologically significant oasis in Long Island Sound. We look forward to our renewed efforts in the new year.”