An advocacy group is threatening a lawsuit against two federal agencies in the latest attempt to halt the public sale of Plum Island, claiming officials have failed to protect endangered species inhabiting the isle.
Connecticut Fund for the Environment, along with the Long Island version Save the Sound, issued notice Monday to the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration — the two agencies that oversee the island — of an intent to sue under violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The 840-acre island is currently home to the Animal Disease Research Center, run under the DHS, and will be sold to the highest bidder to help offset the costs of building a newer, state-of-the-art facility in Kansas.
According to the notice, the federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing their Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision — which were created to outline potential uses of the island — without “sufficiently” consulting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about alternate uses for the island that could protect endangered species, as required by law.
“For decades, Plum Island has been a refuge for rare wildlife in our highly-developed region,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, a Save the Sound spokeswoman in a statement. “The federal government has a solemn legal and ethical obligation to protect threatened and endangered species.”
The federally owned island and waters surrounding it are home to a unique mix of habitats and wildlife species, including terns, plovers, sea turtles, rare orchids, and a number of migrating birds each year, some of which are federally protected as endangered or threatened species, according to the notice.
Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said “we strongly support the efforts of Save the Sound and its legal challenge to the government’s decision to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder.”
Save the Sound and the Group for the East End are both members of what’s known as the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, an initiative of more than 20 organizations pushing for preservation of the island.
“It is impossible to understand how the federal government could simultaneously document the island’s unique and fragile environmental, cultural, and historical resources, yet conclude that a private sale of the island for any number of potential development purposes would not result in significant environmental damage,” Mr. DeLuca said.
In July, then Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) submitted a letter to Senate and House of Representative officials requesting a repeal of the law requiring sale of the island, outlining an alternative to its sale.
They have asked federal officials to stand by the “longstanding existing process” of transferring unutilized federal land to interested federal agencies, such as the U.S. National Parks Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
They are the same agencies the advocacy groups say federal officials overlooked when issuing their Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.
The two federal agencies have 60-days to correct the violation, or the environmental not-for-profits will file a civil action against them, according to the notice.