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Congress approves Zeldin’s bill to stop Plum Island sale

Lee Zeldin

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill Monday that will stop the federal government’s proposed sale of Plum Island to the highest bidder.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and passed after a nearly 15-minute discussion. The bill will now go before the U.S. Senate, Mr. Zeldin said, adding he’s hopeful the president will sign it into law sometime this year.

“Plum Island is not for sale,” Mr. Zeldin said at a press conference earlier in the day at Milton Burns Park in Riverhead before he caught a plane to Washington D.C. in order to cast his vote. 

“There is a state-of-the-art infrastructure facility that is there that can be used for important research,” he said. “There is a way to have good paying science research taking place in that state-of-the-art infrastructure.”

[Related: Zeldin unveils new plan fight Plum Island sale]

Mr. Zeldin had proposed a bill last year to block the sale of the 840-acre property just east of  Orient Point, but that bill was never put up for a vote.

His bill approved Monday calls for the federal Government Accountability Office, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, to come up with a comprehensive plan for the future of the island.

The Animal Disease Center on Plum Island has conducted scientific research there since 1954 on a variety of infectious animal-borne diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease. The federal government has owned the land since 1899. About 90 percent of the island is undeveloped.

Chris Cryder, the special projects coordinator for Save the Sound and an outreach coordinator for Preserve Plum Island Coalition, said during Monday’s press conference: “It is a national, scientific, cultural and environmental treasure … To have it sold and be developed and bulldozed into two championship golf courses, as one noted developer would have it, would be a national tragedy.”

Mr. Cryder was referring to a 2013 proposal from developer and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. Southold Town rezoned Plum Island soon after in order to prevent such development.

Mr. Zeldin’s bill approved Monday nullifies a 2008 federal law that requires the island to be sold to the highest bider. That bill was proposed after the Department of Homeland Security announced in 2005 that it was moving its animal research lab to Kansas, which was expected to open in 2022.

Mr. Zeldin said he has been in discussions with the offices of U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal about his proposed legislation.

Both Mr. Schumer and Mr. Blumenthal have recently made public statements in opposition to the sale of Plum Island.

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Photo: Rep. Lee Zeldin at Monday’s press conference in Riverhead. (Credit: Sara Schabe)