"We're looking forward to a day when Plum Island can...

"We're looking forward to a day when Plum Island can be preserved, and we do believe it's a vision that is feasible," said Louise Harrison, New York Natural Areas coordinator for the nonprofit Save the Sound, which coordinates the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Advocates are pushing to preserve Plum Island by making the land mass a national monument, a designation given to sites including the Statue of Liberty and the birthplace of George Washington.

Representatives of the Plum Island Coalition last week asked government officials and organizations to write a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul in support of the plan. The hope is that Hochul will embrace the local support and then ask President Joe Biden to designate it a national monument through the 1906 Antiquities Act.

"We’re looking forward to a day when Plum Island can be preserved, and we do believe it’s a vision that is feasible," Louise Harrison — New York Natural Areas coordinator for the nonprofit Save the Sound, which coordinates the Preserve Plum Island Coalition —said Thursday during a Long Island Regional Planning Council virtual meeting. "And we know it’s a vision with broad support."

Harrison also said a donor has come forward and is willing to give tens of millions of dollars to fund the island’s management.

The federal Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the authority to preserve historic or prehistoric land owned by the federal government and create national monuments. National monuments are managed by various federal agencies, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The planning council voted to support the proposition and send a letter to the governor. A representative from Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal officials are preparing to move the USDA’s livestock disease laboratory operation that is there to a new facility in Manhattan, Kansas. Environmental cleanup of Plum Island, which will be overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is expected by 2028.

About three-quarters of Plum Island, here with a view of...

About three-quarters of Plum Island, here with a view of the lighthouse, has been undisturbed by humans since the Army's Fort Terry was deactivated in 1949 after World War II. Credit: Randee Daddona

Work to preserve the island has come from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, multiple levels of government and the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, made up of 118 New York, Connecticut and national groups and individuals. Congress in 2008 ordered the sale of the environmentally sensitive land mass in Southold Town, about 1½ miles off of Orient Point, to the highest bidder. A provision in a 2020 bill took it off the auction block and it will now be offered to other federal agencies. If none are interested, it would then be offered to the state, then local municipalities.

About three-quarters of Plum Island has been undisturbed by humans since Fort Terry was deactivated in 1949 after World War II.

A 2020 report released by the coalition recommended the island become a sanctuary area for wildlife, preservation of the Army fort, with guided tours added, an educational facility on the island’s east side and a research facility on the west side.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is drafting a letter to the governor in support of the proposal and hopes to make a compelling case.

"Designating it a monument would open up resources both public and private for its long-term preservation and management," Russell said. "The federal government invests in its parks. It doesn’t generally invest in surplus property."

NATIONAL MONUMENT HOW-TO

A site can be declared a national monument by the president, or less frequently, by an act of Congress.

President Theodore Roosevelt declared Devils Tower in Wyoming the first national monument in 1906, after the Antiquities Act was passed earlier that year.

The most recent addition is the home of civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, added in 2020 by then-President Donald Trump.

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