Plum Island Inches Closer to Permanent Preservation

Plum Island
The Plum Island Lighthouse

Plum Island could be a step closer to permanent preservation.

Reporting language in the recently approved federal omnibus funding package 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.

“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,” said Scott Russell, Southold Town Supervisor, in a statement from the Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC).

In addition to historic buildings, like the Plum Island Lighthouse, and endangered wildlife, the island contains artifacts highly valued by the Montaukett Indian Nation as part of its cultural heritage.

“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,” said Sandi Brewster-Walker, executive director and government affairs officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation.

Am aerial view of Plum Island taken on August 24, 2014.Josip Brombauer/Getty Images

Future of Plum Island at Stake

bThe United States government owns Plum Island, home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center for nearly 70 years. It is expected to close this year.

Preservationists are proposing that Plum Island be designated as a national monument after advocates successfully nixed a federal plan to auction off the land. The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of excessing the island and the Preserve Plum Island Coalition has been working for more than a decade to preserve it in perpetuity.

As part of this federal omnibus legislation, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the General Services Administration have been asked 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) 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.”

The coalition thanked Senators Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and Kirsten Gillibrand for their efforts to preserve Plum Island and for “shepherding this language through the budget process.”

Senator Blumenthal, who represents Connecticut, said in the statement that “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.”

Plum Island is home to federally threatened and New York State-endangered piping plovers and 228 other bird species and is the largest seal haul-out site in the state. Over 111 species of conservation concern have been documented on the island, according to PPIC.

The state designated Plum Gut, turbulent waters that run between the tip of the North Fork at Orient Point and Plum Island, as a “significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat.”

Nationally significant artifacts and historic buildings, including the Plum Island Lighthouse, built in 1869, and the Fort Terry army barracks and weapons batteries, built in 1897, both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

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