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Environmental groups threaten to sue feds over wildlife protection in Plum Island

Environmentalists want the wildlife on Plus Island protected.

Environmentalists want the wildlife on Plus Island protected. The lighthouse is seen here in 2005. Credit: AP / Bill Davis

Environmental groups trying to preserve Plum Island have threatened to sue the federal government if plans to sell the land do not contain building restrictions to protect wildlife.

Save the Sound, Soundkeeper and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment say the island's 834 acres and surrounding waters are home to hundreds of flora and fauna species, including the Roseate tern, rare orchids and other species listed as endangered or threatened.

But the General Services Administration, which is handling the sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, violated the Endangered Species Act by not "sufficiently consulting" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Maritime Fisheries Service, according to a notice of intent to sue sent this week. This means the environmental impact statement is "fundamentally flawed" in approving the sale of the island, off Southold Town, the activists said.

"It is one of those rare gems that if the federal government didn't already own it, we'd be fighting like crazy to get the federal government to own it," said attorney Leah Lopez Schmalz at Save the Sound, based in Connecticut.

Homeland Security referred questions to GSA, which said it is reviewing the groups' letter: "GSA remains committed to complying with the statutory requirements established by Congress with regard to the sale of Plum Island."

If concerns aren't addressed by March 9, the groups intend to sue in Long Island's federal court. The Plum Island research is moving to Kansas, a project to be partly funded by the sale.

Lawmakers and environmentalists want the island to be a national wildlife refuge. "It is impossible to understand how the federal government could simultaneously document the island's unique and fragile environmental . . . resources yet conclude that a private sale of the island for any number of potential development purposes would not result in significant environmental damage," said Bob DeLuca, president of the Bridgehampton-based Group for the East End.

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