Lawmakers, coalition fight to block sale of Plum Island

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2010, file photo, Adrienne Esposito, left, director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Stella Miller, president of the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, look over the beach from the top of an old battery, previously used for defense, on Plum Island in New York. Lawmakers in Connecticut and New York are moving in September 2018 to block the sale of Plum Island, the latest effort to block private development on the former germ warfare testing site in Long Island Sound that is also a habitat for over 200 bird species. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Lawmakers from New York and Connecticut have joined environmental groups in ramping up efforts to block the federal government from selling a mysterious piece of land in Long Island Sound that for years has housed a government animal disease research facility.

Members of Congress from both states asked the House and Senate Appropriations Committees this week not to provide any funding for the marketing or sale of Plum Island, which is part of New York state and is also home to rare birds, sea turtles and other animals.

In the past, the site was used for top-secret U.S. Army germ warfare research and studies that examined dangerous animal diseases.

“The 840-acre island is a critical habitat for over 200 bird species, many of which use the island as part of their north-south migration along the Atlantic flyway, and is the most important haul-out site for grey and harbor seals in southern New England,” the members of the House and Senate wrote.

There are currently four different bills in Congress designed change the 2008 decision that authorized the sale of the island to help fund a new bio-research center in Kansas, which is expected to open in 2022.

The federal General Service Administration, charged with facilitating a public auction of the island, agreed in August not to move forward until it conducts a second environmental impact study.

That decision came after a coalition of environmental groups, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, filed a lawsuit arguing the original federal study was insufficient.

“They never consulted, as required by law, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Chris Cryder, the coalition’s coordinator, said Wednesday. “The real injustice that was done is that they also bypassed the normal process for handling government surplus property, which is to offer it first to sister agencies, then to states, then to counties or municipalities and finally to public auction.”

The legal case will continue, he said, with the goal of getting the GAE to commit to considering a conservation alternative to a public sale — if not for the entire island, then for the 80 percent that is not in the footprint of the research facility.

He said there also is a push to preserve the island’s lighthouse and the remains of Fort Terry, an installation built at the end of the 19th century to help protect Long Island Sound and New York from any military threat.

“This is an exceptionally important island, especially from the point of wildlife,” he said. “It’s become a de facto refuge over the past 70 years and some of our most imperiled species live there.”

Cryder said his coalition is making plans to bring together local, state, regional and federal stakeholders later this fall or early winter for a summit to come up with a detailed conservation plan for the island that can be proposed as an alternative to its sale.

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