Advocacy group fighting to block Plum Island sale

A Plum Island preservation advocacy group told the Southold Town Board Tuesday it intends to move forward with a lawsuit against two federal agencies it alleges have failed to protect endangered species living there. 

Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its Long Island chapter, Save the Sound, issued a 60-day notice in January to the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration — the two agencies that oversee Plum Island — of their intent to sue for violation of the Endangered Species Act.

On Tuesday, the organization’s special projects coordinator, Chris Cryder, said that lawsuit will be filed in the coming months.

“We found the agencies’ response [to the notice] was not adequate,” Mr. Cryder said.

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 cost 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 the 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.

The federally owned island and waters surrounding support a unique mix of habitats and wildlife species, including terns, plovers, sea turtles, rare orchids and a number of migrating birds, some of which are federally protected as endangered or threatened species, according to the notice.

Mr. Cryder attended Tuesday’s Town Board work session with other representatives of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition to update the town on initiatives for 2015. He said preservation advocates currently feel confident they can succeed at blocking the sale of the island at the federal level, citing both the impending lawsuit and recent efforts by lawmakers to repeal the law requiring the sale. He said the coalition is also exploring options to block the sale at the state level, saying it would not be consistent with New York Department of State coastal zone management laws. Currently, because the island is owned by the federal government, it does not have to comply with those laws, but a sale of the land could change that, Mr. Cryder said.

“We’re drafting a letter to the state [arguing that point] as a safety net,” he said.

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