Plum Island plans to make decision, possible ‘mega donor’ on board
NORTH FORK, NY – Now is the time to start thinking about the next chapter of Plum Island.
So said longtime Plum Island preservation advocates, discussing the issue during a virtual environmental roundtable hosted by New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo, the New York State Deputy Jodi Giglio and New York State Deputy Fred Thiele on Thursday.
During the chat, Thiele asked about the status of Plum Island. In 2020, after a fierce battle that lasted years, environmentalists and elected officials rejoiced when they announced that Plum Island would no longer be auctioned.
Mark Woolley, district manager for Rep. Lee Zeldin, said he last visited Plum Island late last year. The Department of Homeland Security, he said, is preparing to close operations at the facility by 2028 at a closure cost of $150 million.
DHS will cease operations at the site and move those operations to Manhattan, Kansas; this operation will be called the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
In the meantime, Woolley said, work is underway to repair the Plum Island lighthouse.
Speaking about the future of Plum Island, Louise Harrison, New York’s natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound, said that since legislation to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder in 2020 was repealed, she postponed the transfer of the parcel under the jurisdiction of DHS. The plan is to go through the General Services Administration to offer Plum Island to federal agencies first.
However, she warned, that process is moving fast – and is expected to start as early as March.
The process, as mandated by law, gives federal agencies 30 days to decide if they are interested in becoming the beneficiary of Plum Island.
“We want to make sure federal agencies are ready to respond and understand what the region wants,” Harrison said.
Another major development has been added to the mix, Harrison said: “A mega-donor is ready to create a fund for a public/private partnership for the future management of Plum Island,” she said. That would mean substantial funding for Friends of Plum Island, a new 501c3 now formed to help run Plum Island, she said.
Harrison said she traveled to Washington, D.C. with others to explain the region’s “intense interest in preserving Plum Island.”
What is needed, Harrison said, is for Governor Kathy Hochul to speak to President Joe Biden, to express her interest in preserving Plum Island, perhaps as a national monument, through legislation. on antiquities of 1906, which makes it possible to create national monuments. federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific highlights.
The “mega donor,” Harrison said, is 94. “She would like this to be fixed soon.”
DHS has sent GSA an “excess report”, which means a property is no longer needed. If the federal government doesn’t show interest in taking it, “if they don’t raise their hand,” then Plum Island is offered to New York State, which then has 30 days to make a decision, said Harrison.
“It flows from there in a fast fashion,” Harrison said. “What we don’t want to see happen is for no one to show interest and for it to come back up for auction. We don’t want that to happen.”
In 2020, Congress passed a federal budget package that repealed the island auction. “Now, the way is finally open for the permanent protection of this unique place and its critical habitats, endangered wildlife and cultural history,” the Preserve Plum Island Coalition said in a statement last week.
“The action restores the normal process of disposing of federal assets instead of auctioning them to the highest bidder. The next steps are then to ensure that the island is transferred to another federal agency, state or a another body, a process that can take several years,” the coalition says.
Locally, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell – who, along with Southold Town Council, passed legislation in 2013 protecting Plum Island from a buyer who might consider developing the plot – applauded the news.
“The removal of Plum Island from the auction block is a huge victory for all who have worked so hard to protect this rare gem. Representative Lee Zeldin and our other elected officials have worked hard with Save The Sound and other organizations to form a tremendous partnership to stop what was an ill-conceived plan from the start. Southold was happy to have joined the fight and we are all happy with the outcome,” he said.
Residents have attended many meetings over the years and have spoken passionately about the future of Plum Island.