PRESS RELEASE: Plum Island one step closer to permanent preservation, thanks to federal omnibus legislation

Southold, NY—Plum Island is one step closer to permanent preservation, thanks to reporting language in the recently approved federal omnibus funding package. The explanatory statement expresses “support for the permanent conservation of Plum Island for the protection in perpetuity of its natural and cultural resources” and calls for a joint briefing to Congressional committees by the agencies involved.

The Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the General Services Administration are directed by the reporting language to “provide a briefing to the Committees regarding the closure and disposal process for the island’s permanent conservation, the possibility of interim ecological management, and options for permanent ownership of Plum Island, including management of and partnerships with State, Federal, and Tribal entities, potential costs for managing the island, the status and schedule of cleanup and monitoring, and the procedures for a subsequent owner to invoke DHS’s responsibility to ensure that DHS’s certification that its remedial actions on Plum Island protect human health and the environment remains valid.”

The Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC) thanks Senators Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and Kirsten Gillibrand for their enduring commitment to the preservation of Plum Island and for shepherding this language through the budget process.

Photo of lush vegetation around a pond on Plum Island, by Robert Lorenz
Freshwater wetlands on Plum Island. Photo by Robert Lorenz.

An ecological gem, Plum Island is home to federally threatened and New York State-endangered piping plovers; approximately 228 other bird species have been sighted there. In addition, it is the largest seal haul-out site in New York, playing host to up to several hundred harbor and gray seals each winter. Over 111 species of conservation concern have been documented on this island of ecological abundance.

Turbulent Plum Gut, located between the tip of the North Fork at Orient Point and Plum Island, has been designated a “significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat” by New York State. In addition, the island is home to nationally significant artifacts and historic buildings, including the National Register of Historic Places Plum Island Lighthouse (1869) and the National Register of Historic Places Fort Terry (1897) army barracks and weapons batteries. Critically important animal disease vaccines were developed at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, protecting economies around the globe. The island also is highly valued by the Montaukett Indian Nation as part of its cultural heritage.

Plum Island is currently owned by the United States government and has been home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center for nearly 70 years. The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of excessing the island, opening it up for transfer to another entity. The 121 organizational members in the Preserve Plum Island Coalition have been working for more than a decade to ensure its permanent conservation.

In 2022, the focus of PPIC has been a campaign to have Plum Island declared a National Monument by President Biden via the 1906 Antiquities Act. More than 1,600 supporters have sent their letters to the White House, including Senators Schumer, Blumenthal, Murphy, and Gillibrand; the full Long Island delegation to the New York State legislature; the 18-member Suffolk County legislature; and every local public official on Long Island’s East End.

Quotes from coalition members, friends, and elected officials:

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, “Ensuring permanent conservation for Plum Island is absolutely critical and remains one of my top priorities in 2023. This language in the recently passed omnibus bill is a welcome step, and I look forward to continuing to pursue action in the near future to protect this national treasure.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said, “I applaud the work of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition and environmental advocates like Save the Sound for making the preservation of our natural resources a priority for our nation. Plum Island is home to two locations on the National Register of Historic Places, several endangered and vulnerable species, and a pristine, undeveloped landscape. Permanently conserving this national treasure would ensure that the ecological and biological diversity of Plum Island is celebrated for generations to come.”

“This is a very important move towards the preservation and conservation of Plum Island, as well as the protection of the Montaukett people’s cultural heritage,” stated Sandi Brewster-walker, executive director and government affairs officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation.

“The Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC) is deeply appreciative of the continuing commitment and support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Murphy, and Richard Blumenthal, as well as Representative Joe Courtney, for the permanent protection of Plum Island, as most recently evidenced by the inclusion of a provision in the federal omnibus spending bill expressing unequivocal support for safeguarding Plum Island in perpetuity,” said John Turner, PPIC spokesperson. “This provision is a logical and highly significant next step in the Coalition’s more than decade-long effort to secure the permanent protection of Plum Island. We thank our Congressional champions for their collective leadership on this important issue. Their provision in the budget bill is a most wonderful holiday present.”

“This significant action by Congress brings us one step closer to our goal of designating Plum Island a National Monument for the purposes of ecological conservation, historical preservation, and the discovery and celebration of our shared cultural heritage,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, president of Save the Sound, which coordinates the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. “Plum Island truly is a national treasure. We are thankful that our leaders in Congress recognize that fact and have declared their support by calling for a Congressional briefing.”

Greg Jacob, New York senior policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy, said, “The Nature Conservancy commends Congressional leaders for calling for a Congressional Briefing regarding the permanent conservation of Plum Island. We appreciate Senators Schumer, Blumenthal, Gillibrand, and Murphy, and Congressmembers Zeldin, DeLauro, and Courtney for their steadfast commitment to ensuring a bright future for Plum Island and Long Island Sound. An ecological treasure, Plum Island is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, and we are proud to work closely with members of Congress and partners to preserve the island’s remarkable wildlife and heritage.

“The recent actions by the US Congress and President Biden are the result of years of hard work and advocacy by the dozens of dedicated individuals and organizations which make up the Preserve Plum Island Coalition,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, whose district is home to Plum Island. “We owe a debt of gratitude not only to the coalition, but to those elected officials who have worked towards the preservation of Plum Island on the federal, state and local levels. The appropriations language in the omnibus spending bill for Plum Island is clear and reflects the value of preserving this historic and ecologically important island, and its significance for the entire nation.”

Scott Russell, Southold Town Supervisor, said, “We think this is a vital step to reach our goal of ensuring the preservation of Plum Island. We will continue and not stop until we are successful. This moves us closer to that goal.”

“When Congress asks for a briefing in a budget measure, it highlights the need for a high level of coordination and alacrity in reaching a desired goal,” said Louise Harrison, Long Island natural areas manager at Save the Sound. “There’s unanimity in the goal of preserving Plum Island; pushing the proverbial ‘devil’ out of the details will help everyone get there faster. We are extremely appreciative of the senators for keeping Plum Island’s needs in mind during the difficult and intense budget process. We look forward to the agencies’ report.”

“This federal funding legislation demonstrates that the preservation of Plum Island is truly within reach, and we couldn’t be more excited about this critical progress. We applaud the sustained efforts of our elected leaders from New York and Connecticut, as well as the diverse array of community, conservation, and cultural advocates who have passionately championed this effort for more than a decade,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End.

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