Monday night, the U.S. Senate voted 92-6 on both a desperately needed COVID-19 relief package and a $1.4 trillion spending bill that will fund the federal government through next September.
That spending bill includes very good news for Southold Town and for environmental groups: Plum Island, the three-mile long, one-mile wide island that sits handsomely off Orient Point, is no longer for sale by the federal government. The threat of its sale to a developer has been removed.
The island is a historic and ecological marvel and removing its “for sale” sign is an enormous achievement. Saving the island, the site of a federal animal disease research center that will eventually be relocated to Kansas, reinforces the need to protect the beauty that is around us.
The island is home to very significant cultural resources in addition to its natural wonders, which comprise more than 500 plant and animal species. The island was used by the Native people who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Their history, erased by development in so many places on eastern Long Island, should be preserved and studied. Their history should count in our narrative as equal in value to the stories of English colonists who settled here.
A brief list of the island’s wonders includes 228 species of birds, representing 25% of all bird species known to North America north of Mexico; the remains of Fort Terry, once a coastal defense facility; and 96 acres of freshwater wetlands.
Many members of the House of Representatives and the Senate deserve pats on the back for sparing Plum Island from being sold. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic) has labored for many years to keep that from happening, and for that he deserves our praise. If we were to pick one person who worked especially hard on this effort, it would be Mr. Zeldin.
But there is more good news for our area in the Senate bill that passed Monday night, which now goes to the president for signature. And here, again, Mr. Zeldin deserves a great deal of credit.
Locally, these items include funding for the Hashamomuck Cove Coastal Storm Risk Management project in Southold, shoreline stabilization at the Reel Point Preserve on Shelter Island and a critically needed feasibility study at Goldsmith Inlet in Southold, which could lead to dredging and improve water flow and navigation at that choked-over tidal area.
Other items Mr. Zeldin has pushed to fund in this bill include ecosystem restoration at Wading River Creek in Riverhead; $30.4 million in funding for programs related to Long Island Sound; and $31.8 million for the National Estuary Program, which supports both Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay estuary system.
The spending bill also authorizes more than $7 billion for research projects at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a world-class facility and a large local employer.
The COVID-19 measure and the spending bill total $2.3 trillion. With the sparing of Plum Island, and the other items that directly impact the North Fork, we can say our region is the winner, both for what the measures accomplish and for the assistance that will now help local businesses continue to weather the storm of the pandemic.