A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security outlining alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder has come under criticism from environmental groups.
“The whole point of this [report] was supposed to be for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to kind of take a step back and take a really hard look on what the options are out there,” said Leah Schmalz, program director for Save the Sound. “They just failed to do that.”
The 44-page report, which does not make a recommendation, detailed three alternatives for the island, which has been home to a federal research lab since 1954 and is now relocating to a new facility in Kansas. The report listed a competitive sale as one of the three options, and the one that would likely generate the most revenue.
Louis Burch, the Connecticut program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the report reads as if the plan to sell the island will continue as scheduled. He said he believes the report is a missed opportunity.
“After much anticipation, the report that we got was fundamentally flawed,” he said.
The other two alternatives were for retention and reuse of the property by the DHS and invoking the Property Act Disposition Authority, to permit the General Services Administration to transfer the property to other federal agencies to support other federal missions, according to the report.
In April, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition wrote to the DHS requesting that it analyze a variety of conservation options to be included in the most recent report. Ms. Schmalz said the DHS “glossed over” the coalition’s letter and the issues proposed. Environmentalists were also concerned that the report failed to offer a recommended course of action after 2023 when the federal facility closes.
The fight to preserve Plum Island has been going on locally for several years now. In May, the House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to halt the federal government’s proposed sale. The bill’s aim was to reverse a 2008 law that mandated the public sale of the island to the highest bidder to help offset the cost of the new facility. In March, New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said the property should be obtained by a federal agency such as the National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Preserve Plum Island Coalition would like to see the facilities already on the land repurposed. Some options proposed are restoring some of the historical sites and establishing limited public access to the island in the future. Ms. Schmalz said another alternative they expressed to the DHS was to sell the footprint of the facility that is already there to a company or organization that would retain some of the jobs.
Ms. Schmalz said preserving Plum Island has been a focus of hers for several years.
“When I set foot on it and realized exactly how magical the place is I was pretty transfixed,” she said. “It became crystal clear that we really need to have a united region fighting to protect this gem. We just don’t have any other island like this one in our region.”
Mr. Burch said the island has significant historic value and attracts a wide variety of animal species. Sea turtles, rare orchids and a number of migrating birds make their home on the island, officials have said.
Most of the island is underdeveloped and in its natural state, virtually untouched by man.
“We’re committed to this issue,” Mr. Burch said. “We are going to keep working and do what we can to make sure that resource gets preserved and gets kept in the public trust.”