New York lawmakers have joined forces with representatives from Connecticut to push for a new proposal they hope will permanently protect Plum Island by transferring the land to another federal agency instead of selling it to the highest bidder.
Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) submitted a letter to Senate and House of Representative officials on July 2 requesting a repeal of the law requiring sale of the island.
The 840-acre island is currently home to the Animal Disease Research Center, run under the Department of Homeland Security, and will be sold to the highest bidder to help offset the costs of building a newer, state-of-the-art facility in Kansas.
The letter outlines an alternative to the sale of the island, instead asking federal officials to stand by its “longstanding existing process” of transferring unutilized federal land to interested federal agencies, such as the U.S. National Parks Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We strongly believe that either the NSP or FWS would be interested in taking possession if the given opportunity,” the letter reads.
Mr. Bishop told the Suffolk Times that while he has not spoken formally with agency officials “certainly they have expressed interest in it to us informally. They recognize the environmental value and importance of the island,” he said.
The letter, which was also signed by Senators Charles Schumer (D-New Y0rk.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Christopher Murphy (D-Connecticut.) — as well as eight other members of the House of Representatives from New York and Connecticut — notes that the estimated $32.85 million in funding that could be raised through a sale of the island pales in comparison to the amount needed to build the proposed Kansas facility, which has ballooned to upwards of $1.2 billion.
Last Wednesday’s announcement marks a change in approach from the legislators, some of whom last year lobbied the woman leading the entity in charge of selling the island — Sylvia Burwell, of the Office of Management and Budget. The group had asked her to sign an executive order blocking its sale, stating that the fate of Plum Island should be separate from selling the island at all.
Legislators have maintained throughout the process, however, that the ecological value of Plum Island is worth far more than its monetary value.
“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.”
Development on the island would be limited, however. Mr. Bishop’s proposal comes almost one year after Southold Town passed zoning restrictions on the island last August, limiting any further development on the island while allowing for maintenance of the research facility and its existing infrastructure.
He said the zoning restriction are “hugely important because it takes away the lure of some developer thinking that they can come and take over the island and develop it with huge homes. That is of the table.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently secured state funding for a year-long biological survey of plant and wildlife on the island which is being conducted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation starting in January 2015.
“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,” the governor said.