Congress Takes First Step To Protect Plum Island From Development

Jul 26, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to stop Plum Island from being sold to developers, a move that would protect the diverse wildlife and ecosystem there.

The Plum Island Preservation Act would direct the Department of Homeland Security, which owns the property, to write up a plan for the future of the island that focuses on conservation.

That could include transferring ownership to another federal or state agency or a conservation nonprofit.

Connecticut's 3rd District Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, thinks Plum Island should become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Plum Island is the largest area in southern New England where seals can rest on dry land,” DeLauro told lawmakers before the vote on Tuesday. “Its 843 acres are home to two threatened bird species -- the piping plover and the roseate terns. This is a refuge for wildlife and native plants, and once it's developed, it cannot be restored.”

Since 1954, the three-mile stretch of land in the eastern end of Long Island Sound has been home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which researches animal pathogens and their effect on farms, ranches, and the national food supply. 

A piping plover.
Credit Nieminen Gene / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Roseate terns.
Credit Alcides Morales / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Access to the island is restricted, which has allowed a diverse variety of plants and wildlife to flourish there.

The facility is slated to move to a new facility in Kansas in 2022.

In 2009, Congress ordered the U.S. General Services Administration to put the island up for sale to help pay for the new Kansas facility.

For years, conservation and environmental advocacy groups have lobbied lawmakers to halt the sale of the island.

The Plum Island Preservation Act had broad bipartisan support in the U.S. House, and now moves to the Senate for a vote.

A similar bill passed the U.S. House in the last Congress, but was not taken up by the Senate.

Connecticut’s 4th district Congressman Joe Courtney believes this bill has a better chance because it passed early in the session, and has support from from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.