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ENVISION REPORT TO PRESERVE PLUM ISLAND

Report details vision and plan to protect island from private development.

By Laura McMillan and Liz Galst  |  July 27, 2020
ENVISION REPORT TO PRESERVE PLUM ISLAND
The Envision report details how Plum Island’s natural beauty can be preserved and protected from private developers. Photo by Robert Lorenz.

Save the Sound and The Nature Conservancy have unveiled Envision Plum Island, a new report detailing a vision and a plan for the future of Plum Island, an 822-acre island poised for the auction block. In a recent press conference, stakeholders and the Preserve Plum Island Coalition called on Congress and New York State to save the island.

Plum Island, located at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, is home to nationally significant natural and cultural resources including lands traditionally used by Indigenous nations; a historic, decommissioned Army post; and more than 500 plant and animal species, 111 of which are rare. It is at risk of being sold to private developers, which would deprive the public of all the island has to offer. The sale would also cause irreversible harm to wildlife, including seals and endangered roseate terns, and threaten Native American artifacts and important, historical buildings.

The Envision report charts a different path. It recommends sanctuary areas for wildlife; preservation of historic Fort Terry and the Plum Island Lighthouse; a small educational facility; and a campus for research. This would bring back jobs and allow local residents and tourists to take guided tours of the island. The report also lays out how Congress and New York State can save the island.

“Congress has made it clear that if we want to save Plum Island from the auction block, we need specificity and unanimity in our vision—and feasibility in a plan. Through regional workshops and numerous meetings over the last two years on Long Island, in Albany, and back in Washington, we have heard great ideas, researched stakeholders’ questions, and found alignment,” said Louise Harrison, New York Natural Areas Coordinator for Save the Sound. “We now present a unified vision for Plum Island Preserve. With Congressional action and New York State’s help, we can make this a reality, protecting and restoring precious natural resources, celebrating history and culture, and maintaining vitally important high-quality jobs on Plum Island.”

“Now more than ever people need and deserve access to the outdoors. Plum Island is a crown jewel of the Atlantic, home to extraordinary and diverse wildlife, rich history, and great beauty, said Bill Ulfelder, New York executive director of The Nature Conservancy. “Presenting a unified vision and plan, the Envision report details how we can build upon Plum Island’s unique legacy; open the island to the benefit of the public; protect its land, waters, and wildlife; and bring back much-needed jobs for New York workers. The Nature Conservancy thanks the New York and Connecticut Congressional delegations for their ongoing leadership, and calls on Congress and New York State to save Plum Island before it’s too late.”

Due to a 2009 federal law, the island is not going through the standard federal process to transfer ownership of the island. Instead, it is poised for private sale despite its significant historical, conservation, and economic value. The Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC), composed of 110 organizations from across the region, works to save the island in close partnership with the region’s U.S. senators and representatives.

At the request of Congressional offices, the PPIC convened a diverse group of stakeholders to identify viable alternatives to development. Over the course of two years, Native American nations, business owners, ecologists, conservationists, historical preservationists, archaeologists, and local and state officials studied possibilities for the island. The Envision report is the result of that process.

On July 15, The Nature Conservancy and Save the Sound briefed congressional staff on how Congress can help make the vision a reality. Congress can stop the sale of Plum Island by repealing the laws that bypassed the normal federal disposition process, or by proactively restoring the normal process. The next opportunity to do this is through the FY2021 appropriations process. The repeal language needed is currently in the House appropriations bill, but not yet in the Senate appropriations bill. Votes on the appropriations bills may occur as soon as the end of July. For more information, contact Laura McMillan, Save the Sound, 540-292-8429, lmcmillan@ctenvironment.org or Liz Galst, The Nature Conservancy, 917-843-2718, liz.galst@tnc.org.