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Plum Island should be park, wildlife refuge, Schumer says

Plum Island can be seen in this undated

Plum Island can be seen in this undated aerial photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement he wants to turn the island into a national park or wildlife refuge to protect its "immense environmental value." Credit: AP

Turn Plum Island into a national park or wildlife refuge to protect its “immense environmental value,” instead of selling it to the highest bidder, U.S. senators from New York and Connecticut proposed on Thursday.

“With open space ever dwindling on Long Island, we should do everything possible to preserve the environmental and wildlife habitat that is Plum Island,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement.

Currently, the federal government plans to sell the 840-acre island after the Animal Disease Center there is transferred to Kansas.

Though that relocation will not occur until 2022, about two years late, would-be buyers already are eager, according to the General Services Administration, which would sell the island.

“We’re always getting inquiries,” said Patrick Sclafani, GSA spokesman. “It would be developers, real estate folks, conservation folks, you name it.”

Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) want their proposal to turn Plum Island over to the National Park Service or the Fish & Wildlife Service included in the next appropriations bill.

Plum Island’s historic sites date back to the Spanish-American War, as well as such rare fauna as carnivorous plants and orchids, according to the Save the Plum Island advocacy group. Just two miles from Orient Point, it also boasts Long Island’s largest seal colony.

Two years ago, the Town of Southold sought to safeguard Plum Island by rezoning it. While laboratory research could continue on the 125 acres now used for this purpose, residential development would be barred on the rest of the island, where only nature preserves, parks, museums, and alternative energy generators — if specially approved by Southold — would be allowed.

However, advocates said they were concerned developers might persuade elected officials to overturn those restrictions.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is working with Schumer, said the Kansas research center will not be funded by auctioning Plum Island.

“The stark truth is the sale of Plum Island is no longer necessary to build a new bioresearch facility because Congress has fully appropriated the funds,” he said in a letter.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who is a former Southold Town councilman, said both the island’s natural resources and role in the local economy should be preserved.

Referring to the new proposal, he said: “As an option to having it developed into a casino or a golf course or high density development, it’s obviously much better than that.”

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