Congressman Tim Bishop was joined Tuesday by a coalition of elected officials and environmental advocates to announce 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 the 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 a press conference in Orient on Tuesday –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 was introduced in the House of Representatives Tuesday with Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney (D) and New York Congressman Michael Grimm (R) as original cosponsors. Also Tuesday, companion legislation will be introduced in the Senate by Connecticut 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 preserved as a conservation district.
“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,” said Bishop. “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 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.
The Sierra Club’s Long Island Group, the Group for the East End, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the South Shore Audubon Society, Save the Sound and The Nature Conservancy have all announced their support for Bishop’s legislation.
“The Nature Conservancy supports the Preserve Plum Island Coalition and the Town of Southold’s call to permanently protect at least 80 percent 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.