Tim Bishop Introduces Bill to “Save Plum Island”

Flanked by a coalition of elected officials and environmental advocates—all standing behind a sing reading, “Save Plum Island”—on an Orient Point beach Tuesday, Congressman Tim Bishop announced the introduction of his new bipartisan bill aimed at preserving critical biodiversity and preventing further development on Plum Island by eliminating the current requirement in law that the island be sold at public auction.

Legislation passed by Congress in 2008 mandates the public sale of Plum Island, with the proceeds intended to partially offset the $1.2 billion cost of the proposed National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas. At the press conference in Orient with the 840-acre, federally-owned island in the background, Bishop said that Plum Island’s value as a research facility and wildlife conservation area far exceeds any revenue that the government would realize from a public sale. Bishop’s “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island” legislation will permanently decouple the future of Plum Island from that of NBAF.

Bishop’s bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives today with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) as  original cosponsors. Also today, companion legislation is slated to be introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Bishop has consistently fought against funding for NBAF, arguing that the massive new facility is unaffordable given the nation’s budget constraints and would duplicate many of the research functions currently served well by other existing facilities, including Plum Island. Bishop said that the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center will continue to operate until at least 2020 and that no potential sale would take place before that date.

Last month, the federal General Services Administration (GSA) released a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the sale and continues to prepare for a potential public auction, claiming that up to 500 new homes could be constructed on the island. Residential development is adamantly opposed by Bishop, other elected officials representing Southold Town, and environmental groups. The Southold Town Board has endorsed an “adaptive re-use” plan for the island where research work would continue in the area already devoted to that purpose, with approximately two-thirds of the island’s diverse landscape preserved as a conservation district.

The “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island” legislation text notes that over $23 million in federal funding has been spent on facility maintenance and upgrades at the current federal research campus on Plum Island since January 2012 and that “Plum Island contains cultural, historical, ecological, and natural resources of regional and national significance.”

Congressman Bishop said: “Plum Island is one of the natural treasures of the Northeast and my bill would eliminate the wrongheaded requirement that it be sold into private hands for a fraction of its true value to our nation. If the federal government did not already own Plum Island, it would be seeking to purchase it for conservation as prime habitat for rare birds and plants as well as a research campus ideal for the study of biology and botany, alternative energy development, or other scientific disciplines. Elected officials, environmental advocates, and the entire community speak with one voice in support of my legislation: save, don’t sell Plum Island.”

“Plum Island is a unique ecological resource that should be preserved for future generations,” Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) said. “Currently, the law prescribes only one fate for Plum Island should the site leave federal ownership: sale to a private owner. I applaud the steps that Southhold, NY and stakeholders on both sides of the Long Island Sound have taken towards preserving the island, but it is clear that Congress must eliminate the sale requirement to allow for other options for its future – including preservation as an ecological treasure. I am proud to join with Congressman Bishop and our colleagues in Connecticut and New York to offer this commonsense proposal today.”

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-SI/Brooklyn) said: “Plum Island is not just home to one of New York’s exemplary research facilities, it boasts a diverse and unspoiled wildlife preserve. To sell Plum Island at a fraction of its value for the purpose of real estate development will threaten this natural treasure. In addition, after the federal government has invested millions in the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the facility’s closure will put millions of taxpayer dollars to waste and put local research jobs at risk. I applaud Congressman Bishop for his leadership to ‘Save, Not Sell’ Plum Island and I am proud to join him in this effort.”

“We have a unique opportunity to preserve Plum Island,” New York State Senator Ken LaValle said, “The 840-acre Plum Island contains significant natural resources and possesses remarkable scenic and environmental value.”

“The future of Plum Island is of great importance to the residents of Southold and the East End. I thank Congressman Bishop for helping to send a strong message to Congress that we will control our future, regardless of who owns the island,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.

“The Preserve Plum Island Coalition lauds Congressman Tim Bishop for taking the decisive and important step to keep Plum Island a public island by introducing the “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island” bill. It is clear he gets the basic fact that selling Plum Island make neither environmental or economic sense and further, that New Yorkers, and indeed all Americans, are best served by keeping the Island in the public trust”, said John Turner, a spokesperson for the Coalition. “We urge his colleagues in Congress to support the measure so the remarkable and extensive cultural, historic, and natural resources of Plum Island can be permanently preserved and time can be afforded to determine an appropriate path forward for the Plum Island facility. Kudos to the Congressman,” Turner added.

“Selling this national treasure is a breach of public trust.  Will the federal government seek next to sell Ellis Island or Liberty Island? The abundant and diverse natural resources of Plum Island should be held with the same regard and significance as the historical value of Ellis Island and Liberty Island.  Selling Plum Island diminishes our future and short changes the public,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.  “Thank goodness we have Congressional Representatives like Congressman Bishop, who understand the true worth of land and our natural world.”

According to Bob DeLuca, President of the Southold-based, Group for the East End, “it’s hard to imagine a worse idea than selling off  one of this Nation’s publicly owned natural and historic treasures, simply to satisfy an ill-advised accounting gimmick intended to hide the real costs of a  billion dollar bio-defense laboratory that we may not even need. Thankfully, Congressman Bishop has seen this charade for what it is, and has taken the lead on this important measure to stop the sale of Plum Island to the highest bidder, and keep this remarkable island in public hands,” he said.

“Nearly nine-tenths of Plum Island is currently undeveloped. That fact has allowed pristine wetland and grassland areas, as well as breeding grounds for more than 80 species of birds, to thrive to this very day,” said New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn. “Plum Island is one of the Long Island Sound’s most important conservation areas, and we thank Congressman Bishop for his efforts to protect this natural gem in perpetuity.”

The North Shore Land Alliance endorses the “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island” bill and Land Alliance President Lisa Ott noted: “Plum Island, which is 80% undeveloped, provides habitat for an astonishing diversity of plants, birds, insects, marine mammals and other wildlife, including scores of at-risk species. As a land trust working to preserve some of Long Island’s remaining natural areas, we heartily support this legislation that would serve to keep these values intact.”

“Plum Island not only is regionally significant, it is globally significant to some wildlife species, such as the roseate tern. That means there can be no proxy for Plum Island; it makes the island irreplaceable. Thank you to our representatives in government who are working hard to preserve Plum Island’s natural, historic, and scenic resources,” said Louise Harrison, conservation biologist from Peconic, NY.

“Congressman Tim Bishop’s bill provides both Democrats and Republicans a splendid opportunity to be fiscally shrewd while respecting the will of the Town of Southold and Long Island residents to preserve Plum Island,” said Bill Stegemann, conservation chair for the Sierra Club’s Long Island Group.

“The South Shore Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society representing approximately 1700 households on Long Island, strongly supports Representative Tim Bishop’s legislative proposal to repeal the requirement that Plum Island be sold by the federal government to pay for a research facility in the Midwest. It belongs to the people. Plum Island is a Long Island environmental jewel and should be preserved for future generations. We hope that at least 80% of this incredibly important habitat be set aside to become a National Wildlife Refuge,” said Jim Brown, President, South Shore Audubon Society.

“The Nature Conservancy supports the Preserve Plum Island Coalition and the Town of Southold’s call to permanently protect at least 80% of Plum Island as a wildlife refuge with public access, with the preferred owner and manager being the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We fully support Congressman Bishop’s legislation to repeal the requirement that Plum Island be sold to help pay for a new research lab in Kansas,” said Randy Parsons of The Nature Conservancy.

“Plum Island has been recognized by numerous state and federal agencies for the richness of the natural resources both on the island and in its surrounding waters, and was designated as a Long Island Sound Stewardship site in 2006,” said Charles Rothenberger, an environmental attorney representing Save The Sound. “With the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to purchase conservation properties, it defies logic that the government would sell off a property it already owns that possesses such an abundance of ecological resources. We applaud this legislation as a common-sense approach that will help to protect Plum Island for future generations.”

Plum Island Light

Plum Island Light, Photo: Boats n Cars

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