Environmental activists, civic groups and elected officials said Wednesday they are a step closer to keeping Plum Island — the 840-acre land mass off Orient Point that is home to exotic wildlife — in public hands.
The hopes of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition have been buoyed by pending legislation in Congress as well as a report its members released Wednesday that documents a vision for the locale — which includes designating it for research and for preservation — that could prevent the land from falling into private hands. The report recommends sanctuary areas for wildlife, preservation of an Army fort with guided tours added, an educational facility on the island’s east side and a research facility on the west side.
“This property is already in the public ownership,” said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during an online news conference where the coalition released the 72-page report, Envision Plum Island, which details why Congress and New York State should save the island that advocates call a national treasure rich with endangered wildlife, Native American history, and historic landmarks.
“That [sale] has to be permanently stopped,” Englebright said.
Plum Island houses an animal research facility operated by the Department of Homeland Security, which put it up for sale in 2008. In December, President Donald Trump signed an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 that defunds Government Services Administration activities involving the sale.
Activists hailed that move as a temporary reprieve and have asked the public to back two new bills in the House of Representatives and Senate that would fully repeal the sale of the island. Those bills to preserve Plum Island, which are in committee, were sponsored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Advocates said the public could also encourage support for the House budget bill for fiscal year 2021, which contains a provision to repeal the sale, said Greg Jacob, policy adviser for The Nature Conservancy, which released the report Wednesday along with Save the Sound.
“We are determined to prevent Plum Island from being sold to the highest bidder,” Blumenthal said. “If Plum Island is lost, it cannot be recovered … We should spare no effort now that victory is in sight to make sure that profits are not put before the preservation of Plum Island.”
Zeldin said the fight to save the island is not over.
“Especially after we’ve all been locked down for a few months, we all appreciate the great outdoors even more than ever,” he said. “And we have to have a renewed focus on ensuring getting this across the finish line.”
The Envision Plum Island report is the result of two years of meetings and workshops with various stakeholders, advocates said. It highlights the natural resources and history of the place. The report is posted online at www.preserveplumisland.org
Louise Harrison, New York Natural Areas coordinator for Save the Sound, said there are hundreds of species on the island, including many of greatest conservation need, 227 bird species, rare plants and underwater marine resources.
“The island’s amazing ecological resources extend to and beyond the shore,” she said. “And we’ve barely begun studying them.”