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Another attempt to preserve Plum Island

JULIE LANE PHOTO The Plum Island Lighthouse.
The Plum Island Lighthouse.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill July 25 to prevent the sale of Plum Island by the federal government to the highest bidder for the second time.

The Preserve Plum Island Act had passed the House last year, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. This time, the bill has been updated with stronger language to ensure that conservation of the island is a top priority, according to a spokesperson for Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who introduced the bill in April.

“A feature so unique and exotic deserves to be cherished and preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder to be privately developed,” Mr. Zeldin wrote in an op-ed released Friday.

The revised bill aims specifically to suspend laws passed in 2008 and 2011 that mandate the sale of Plum Island, which is held by the Department of Homeland Security, and would instead allow “continued research, public access and permanent preservation of the island,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Zeldin after the measure passed.

In 2013, President Donald Trump had eyed purchasing the 840-acre island. His representatives spoke with Southold Town and federal officials about the possibility of building a golf course there. Soon after, Southold passed a law establishing two new zoning districts on the island. One is a research district that includes the existing lab and 160 surrounding acres; the other is a conservation district that disallows development on the remaining 600 untouched acres.

A plan for Plum Island’s future, according to Mr. Zeldin’s op-ed, “must include alternative uses … including a transfer of ownership to another federal agency, the state or local government, a nonprofit, or a combination thereof, and posses a focus on conservation, education and research.”

The congressman called the island a “historic gem,” noting its connection to the Corchaug and Montaukett Indian tribes and its role as the site of a battle between British and Continental troops. It is more recently the home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is slated to move to a new Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility in Kansas.

The House-approved bill will again move to the Senate for a vote, with the support of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, which comprises more than 65 environmental and community organizations.

“It is now upon the Senate to bring this bill to a vote and have it sent to the president’s desk,” Mr. Zeldin wrote in his op-ed. “For the people of Long Island, this cause is far too important to allow it to slip away.”

The bill has had support from New York and Connecticut senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, who in May sent a letter to the subcommittee on Homeland Security asking that required sale of Plum Island be repealed. The sale would no longer serve the purpose for which it was intended, they wrote, because the new Kansas facility has already been funded.

Additionally, the senators wrote that “Plum Island and its boundless natural treasures must remain free from developers so they can instead be preserved for future generations.”

“Senator Gillibrand has long supported preserving Plum Island and is glad to see that the House passed the Plum Island Preservation Act,” spokesperson Rowhan Baptiste said Monday. “She supports the bill passed in the House to temporarily suspend activities related to the sale of Plum Island, and will also continue work with her colleagues in the Senate on a permanent solution for conserving the island for future generations.”