OLD SAYBROOK, CT —Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-2), state Sen. Andrea Stillman (D-Waterford), state Rep. Marilyn Giuliano (R-Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook), state Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford), and representatives from Audubon Connecticut, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and The Nature Conservancy for a press conference today urging the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to conserve Plum Island.
In July, GSA released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the sale of Plum Island. In the DEIS, GSA reviews four use alternatives New York State can consider after the island is auctioned off by the federal government, but GSA does not analyze alternatives to an unfettered sale itself. Critically, it recommends auctioning the island as-is, without restriction, and does not analyze, much less recommend, options for conservation restrictions in its future sale. The groups said that ideally, the entire island would be transferred to a federal entity such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that could manage it as a refuge. However, if this is not possible, the groups advocate for a conservation sale of Plum Island that would protect over 750 acres of undeveloped, critical habitat while allowing development and safe re-use of the currently developed portions of the island.
“Plum Island has been identified for protection by our highest state and federal authorities due to its tremendous ecological value and recreational potential,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound. “Despite the initial response from elected officials and the public and voluminous data highlighting the need to preserve vital portions of Plum Island, GSA’s DEIS still recommends auctioning Plum Island off to the highest bidder—without conditions that conserve valuable habitat. This runs counter to the demonstrated governmental interests in preserving this unique Long Island Sound gem.”
“While the DEIS mentions conservation opportunities as a part of its alternatives analysis, it abdicates responsibility for establishing conditions for any sale based on the findings of these alternatives. Instead, it chooses to foist that burden onto New York state and local authorities once a full-scale development is threatened,” stated Charles Rothenberger, an attorney with Save the Sound. “Between now and the issuance of its Final EIS, we urge GSA to adopt the approach that will accomplish both a full transfer of the island and the protection of its vast undeveloped lands, in fulfillment of statutory requirements—a conservation sale.”
The undeveloped portion of Plum Island is home to many federally endangered and New York State threatened species, including Roseate Terns, Common Terns, Piping Plovers, and Ospreys, as well as four New York State threatened species of plants. The island also hosts the largest seal haul-out in New York and one of the largest in southern New England. Lastly, the island contains four large areas of rare habitat including 63 acres of maritime dunes, 45 acres of maritime beach, 44 acres of maritime bluff, and 34 acres of marine rocky intertidal.
“Plum Island is a one-of-a-kind jewel adorning Long Island Sound, a fragile estuary that is already under stress from stormwater runoff carrying pesticides, fertilizers, sewage, detergents and other contaminants associated with large developments. That’s a fact,” said State Representative Lonnie Reed who is a co-chair of the legislature’s Long Island Sound Caucus. “It is also a fact that more than 20 million people live within 50 miles of Long Island Sound and families yearn to enjoy its beaches and to experience with their children a whole world of natural splendors. Sadly, easy access to the shore is increasingly blocked by miles and miles of private properties surrounded by gates. Plum Island is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the General Services Administration to save an extraordinary wild place, and to make it available for boaters, kayakers, fishermen and families to explore. My first memory of the shore as a child was giggling with glee as my dad tossed me into the waves while telling me that such beautiful treasures must be cherished and protected because God is not making any more of them. That is how we should all feel about Plum Island. It is a rare and precious gift that must be defended and preserved for all of us forever. “
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to protect an unparalleled ecological gem in Long Island Sound,” said Tom Baptist, executive director and vice president of Audubon Connecticut, the state organization of the National Audubon Society. “Plum Island is recognized as an Important Bird Area, part of a chain of islands that supports a Globally Significant population of federally endangered Roseate Terns, and it provides habitat for a wide variety of other important birds, wildlife and plants,” he said. “These natural resources already belong to the public and the federal government has an obligation to make sure they consider all the facts before selling the island. Audubon calls on GSA to carry out a full ecological inventory and ensure conservation of Plums Island’s unspoiled natural areas before any sale goes forward.”
“Eight-hundred-and-forty acre, federally-owned Plum Island, with seven-and-a-half miles of natural shoreline, offers the most extraordinary opportunity to preserve Long Island Sound wildlife habitat, ecological services, and public open space in many generations,” said David Sutherland, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “We must not squander it. The undeveloped portions of Plum Island should not be sold for development but protected as part of the public trust.”
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed selling Plum Island in order to relocate the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to Kansas. In 2010, Save the Sound organized a site visit to Plum Island with key allies to view the island first hand and gain a better understanding of the types of natural resources at stake. Additionally, Save the Sound has provided coalition membership opportunities in Connecticut to support efforts being done in New York to protect the island.
Because of its ecological significance, the 840-acre Plum Island and adjacent Great Gull and Little Gull Islands were identified for protection in 2006 by the Long Island Sound Stewardship Initiative. This initiative was created by the federal Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, endorsed by the Long Island Sound Study Management Committee and adopted and signed by the Policy Committee of the Long Island Sound Study, made up of the Regional Administrators of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regions I & II, and the Commissioners of the New York Department of Conservation and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The Stewardship Initiative chose 33 of the Sound’s last great coastal places to be inaugural sites—Plum, Great Gull, and Little Gull Islands were included based on their “exemplary” ecological value.