(Hartford, CT) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led the Connecticut Congressional delegation and members of the New York delegation today in issuing a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership calling for the repeal of language currently compelling the sale of Plum Island, enabling the preservation of the unique natural habitat.
The letter is a tandem effort to a bill introduced last year by Blumenthal, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) that also seeks to repeal the problematic language.
Due to its partial use as a federal research facility, most of the 840-acre island has remained an undeveloped sanctuary for wildlife, including Osprey, Bank Swallow, and Piping Plovers, and native plants. Congress voted in 2008 to close the research facility and move its work to a Kansas site, expected to be completed in 2019. Currently, the federal General Service Administration is required by law to sell the entire island, including the research facility and the surrounding natural habitat to the highest bidder, and is precluded from transferring the island to another federal agency, such as the U.S. National Parks Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for preservation.
The Nature Conservancy recently estimated the appraised value of the island at $32.85 million. Sale of the island would do little to defray the more than $1 billion the Kansas site is expected to cost.
“As Members from the Long Island Sound region, we remain deeply concerned about the effects of a possible forced sale and development of the Island on the landscape and ecological value of the area…The rationale for selling the Island to the highest bidder no longer makes economic sense, and we respectfully request that the Committee work with us in providing the General Services Administration (GSA) with the flexibility it needs to transfer the Island to another federal agency such as the U.S. National Park Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” the letter states.
In addition to the full Connecticut Congressional delegation, the letter is signed by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Congressman Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.), Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), and Congressman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).
“Plum Island is a priceless natural habitat that must be preserved and protected from development. Congress must repeal its short-sighted decision to sell this environmental treasure to the highest bidder,” Blumenthal said. “Once developed, this pristine land and the beautiful endangered species who call Plum Island home will never be the same. We have an opportunity, and responsibility, now to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the environmental and recreational benefits of this unique and priceless island.”
“Plum Island shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” Murphy said. “It’s not every day that we have chance to protect an entire island in the Sound, and squandering this chance would be unforgiveable. Congress made a mistake in authorizing this sale, and it’s long overdue that we correct it. Potential repercussions from the sale of Plum Island to a private owner, who would likely develop the area, are frightening for Long Island Sound and Connecticut. As we work to keep the Sound clean, and maintain the rest of the area’s natural habitats, allowing potentially major and environmentally damaging developments on Plum Island just isn’t smart. This space needs to be managed by an entity that has the environmental preservation as its top priority. Anything else would be a step backwards in our goal of achieving a cleaner, healthier planet.”
“The environmental importance of Plum Island cannot be overstated,” DeLauro said. “We need to proceed very carefully when considering the future of this environmental and ecological treasure. We have a responsibility to ensure the protection and preservation of this national treasure, not only for those living near their shores, but for their children and children’s children.”
“We should not ignore the detrimental impacts to the landscape and wildlife in the Long Island Sound that would come from the forced sale of Plum Island. I stand with my colleagues in the Connecticut delegation in strong opposition to the proposed sale, and I urge the GSA to transfer the Island to the U.S. National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for conservation. We must protect and preserve this iconic island and its ecosystem,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5).
“The sale of Plum Island would be a critical mistake both from a research and an ecological standpoint,” said Congressman Bishop. “If this island is allowed to be developed by the highest bidder, the species that currently exist on the island, including multiple endangered species, could be irreparably harmed. We urge the GSA to use its standard method of disposing of excess property, which would allow another federal agency to take control of the property for preservation purposes.”
“It’s thanks to tireless champions like Senator Blumenthal, Congressman Bishop, and the entire bi-state, bicameral, and bipartisan Long Island Sound delegation that we are gathered today to celebrate a potential permanent conservation solution for Plum Island,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “They saw a threat to our region—opening Plum Island up for development—and stepped in with a solution—encouraging the General Services Administration to allow the National Park Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take possession of the Island. The 840-acre island is a treasure, home to endangered species like the piping plover; where once only a looming auction block stood, we can now glimpse permanently protected beaches, bluffs, wetlands and wildlife.”
“Plum Island is a part of Long Island Sound we can’t afford to lose,” said Stewart Hudson, executive director of Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society. “Together with Great Gull and Little Gull, Plum Island hosts a network of rare and wild habitats, dotted with remarkable historic features, all relatively undisturbed by human development and all already held in public trust. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Blumenthal, Congresswoman DeLauro, and Congressman Bishop, we stand with our entire bi-state Long Island Sound delegation calling on Congressional leaders not to betray our public trust, but to chart a course toward a conservation solution that will allow Plum Island to endure for generations to come.”
“We commend Congressman Bishop and Senator Blumenthal and the Long Island Sound Congressional Caucus for their leadership to protect Plum Island, a one of a kind jewel in Long Island Sound,” said Erin Crotty, Executive Director of Audubon New York. “Ensuring the permanent conservation of this Important Bird Area, which supports such a unique diversity of bird species, is critical to the long term health of the Sound’s ecosystem. We urge Congress and the Obama Administration to ensure it is protected into the future.”
“The Nature Conservancy applauds Senator Blumenthal, Congressman Bishop and the other members of the Long Island Sound delegation who have signed on to this letter asking to repeal any requirement that Plum Island be sold to the highest bidder,” said Chantal Collier, the Conservancy’s Long Island Sound Program Director. “This island is in public ownership and is priceless as a public asset. The Nature Conservancy is a member of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition and fully supports involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and or the National Park Service in the future management and ownership of most or all of Plum Island.”