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Renewed Push to Save Plum Island

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 18:43
The freshwater wetlands of Plum Island are home to many species of birds.
Ariel Shearer

With the release of a new report on Plum Island and its future, environmental groups and elected officials have renewed the call for the federal General Services Administration to call off the island's sale and preserve it instead.

The report, advocates say, satisfies a request by Congress for a feasibility study and management plan before it will consider taking Plum Island off the auction block.

Titled "Envision Plum Island," the recommendations include specific sanctuary areas for wildlife, construction of a small educational facility and a research center, and the preservation of Fort Terry and the Plum Island Lighthouse.

"Now more than ever, people need and deserve access to the outdoors. Plum Island is a crown jewel of the Atlantic, home to extraordinary and diverse wildlife, rich history, and great beauty," Bill Ulfelder, New York executive director of the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. "Presenting a unified vision and plan, the 'Envision' report details how we can build upon Plum Island's unique legacy, open the island to the benefit of the public, protect its land, waters, and wildlife, and bring back much-needed jobs for New York workers."

The 822-acre island is home to more than 500 plant and animal species; about one in five species is considered rare or endangered, advocates have said. Its land and resources were used by indigenous peoples of the past, and Fort Terry and the lighthouse are historic buildings. More than 100 organizations on both sides of Long Island Sound have banded together to push for preservation.

The Department of Homeland Security owns the island, the site of a storied animal disease research center. That facility's planned decommissioning date in 2023 is getting closer and closer as the efforts to lobby for preservation, ongoing for the last three years, continue. Representative Lee Zeldin and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have both introduced legislation to direct the federal government to act.

"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," Mr. Zeldin said in a statement. "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."

The full report can be seen online at

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