Plum Island in New York, off the coast of Connecticut, is currently home to the nation’s only research facility for highly contagious animal diseases. In 2008, the US Department of Homeland Security was directed to examine the need for a research facility. The federal General Services Administration was later directed to sell the island.
Joining us to talk about the future of Plum Island is Charles Rothenberger, an attorney with New Haven-based Save the Sound. He says an analysis is lacking of what is necessary to protect a variety of interests on the island. For years, Rothenberger says, the island has been secluded, fostering the development of some rare plant and animal species. “It’s off limits to a lot of traffic, allowing populations to thrive and flourish to date,” he says.
The island is home to some 50 protected bird species under state and federal law. A draft environmental impact statement examines possible outcomes ranging from an outright conservation sale to various levels of residential development, Rothenberger says. “Conclusory statements on impacts on species are not supported by an analysis,” he says, which is contrary to how such impact statements should be handled. In addition, the statement takes too narrow a view of what protection entails, he says, because it defers to state and local authorities to impose conservation conditions.
Save the Sound hopes to keep Plum Island as it is, possibly transfering it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, or incorporating it into a wildlife refuge. Rothenberger adds “The GSA should impose very strict conservation requirements on any sale to ensure species remain undisturbed and protected.”