Don’t spend taxpayer money to sell Plum Island
Advocates arguing that Plum Island should be preserved in its natural state received both good news and bad news earlier this month.
The good news: The federal government posted in the Federal Register its intent to conduct a supplemental environmental impact study of the island to provide information missing from a study completed five years ago. The bad news: The U.S. General Services Administration is not backing off its intent to sell at auction the 840-acre island just off Orient Point, Long Island.
Plum Island is a familiar sight to many residents of southeastern Connecticut, including boaters and those who ride the ferry between New London and Orient Point. Somewhat shrouded by mystery for decades as home to an animal disease research laboratory that necessitates keeping the island off limits to the public, Plum Island also is known for its wild and natural appearance. Screeching sea birds regularly circle the island’s distinctive granite lighthouse and its landscape is characterized by thick vegetation, windswept trees and rocky shorelines.
Numerous environmental groups, residents of both New York and Connecticut and elected officials of both states are working to prevent development on the island and preserve it in its natural state. The Day has long advocated this as well, arguing that the island should have limited public access once the laboratory closes, so all can enjoy Plum Island’s important flora and fauna. Audubon has documented more than 200 bird species as breeding or foraging on the island, while the Nature Conservancy has said it hosts the largest seasonal seal population locally. It also is home to many rare plants.
The nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound in 2016 led a group of organizations in a lawsuit aiming to block the island’s sale. Members of Congress, including Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, also have moved to block the island’s sale through federal legislation. Officials in Southold, N.Y., the town that encompasses Plum Island, enacted zoning regulations that prohibit commercial or residential development of the island, helping ensure it will not become an uber high-end resort or enclave for the super rich.
Congress voted in 2008 to sell the island after it was decided the animal disease center there would close and be moved to Kansas. Despite the forceful local sentiment against the sale in the decade since that decision, the federal government is not backing off its intent to be rid of the island by 2023, the same year the laboratory’s move is expected to be completed.
Insisting on selling the island not only threatens its natural resources but also lays the foundation for many more years of legal wrangling and lawsuits. Perhaps the results of the supplemental environmental impact study that will be conducted in 2019 will provide enough fodder for Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound to be successful in its legal challenge.
Better yet, congressional representatives and senators from Connecticut and New York should convince their colleagues in Washington to stop spending taxpayer money preparing to sell Plum Island and instead allow local will to prevail by conserving the island in a natural state.