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Sale of Plum Island put on hold temporarily

Plum Island is an 840-acre island off Orient

Plum Island is an 840-acre island off Orient Point. Credit: Randee Daddona

Environmental advocates and legislators said new state and federal laws, including one that would temporarily stop the sale of Plum Island, will help their efforts to protect the North Fork island and its wildlife.

President Donald Trump signed into law last Friday the appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020, which defunds Government Services Administration activities involving the sale of Plum Island.

The bill would prohibit the agency, which is authorized to spend on marketing the island’s sale, from putting any money toward selling the 840-acre island off Orient Point.

Louise Harrison, the New York Natural Areas coordinator for environmental nonprofit Save the Sound, said the legislation was a victory in their efforts to protect Plum Island.

“I think it’s encouraging and it’s highlighted Plum Island among legislators. And it should ease the way for them, especially the ones who aren’t from this region, to pay more attention to it,” Harrison said.

The island is home to an animal research facility operated by the Department of Homeland Security and several wildlife species. However, the agency decided in 2008 to move to a new facility in Kansas and sell the island. The move has not taken place.

Save the Sound and other environmental advocacy groups sued the agency and the General Services Administration in 2016 to block the sale.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell did not immediately return requests for comment.

Several legislators applauded the passage of the legislation.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the federal bill “a step in the right direction” and urged legislators to take permanent steps to prevent the island’s sale.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said while he supported the bill’s passage, he hoped legislators would pass long-term legislation, such as his Plum Island Preservation Act.

Harrison said her group is finalizing the results of “Envision Plum Island,” an 18-month effort to find consensus on a viable vision for the island’s future, which Congress has asked the group to develop.

In other news, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Dec. 17 signed into law the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Protection Area, which designates a watery zone around Plum, Great Gull, and Little Gull islands, located off the east end of the North Fork. The law authorizes the state Department of Environmental Conservation to protect marine mammals and sea turtles in that area.

John Turner, spokesman for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, said the legislation means New York State “formally recognizes the rich ecological value of this archipelago of islands, of which Plum Island is a critical part, and that it is worthy of preservation.”

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