Plum Island: A Treasured Asset in Need of Protection

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01).

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Plum Island.

Photo by: Office of Congressman Lee Zeldin

Long Island, NY - July 31, 2017 - A historic gem that is so important to our life, culture, and economy, Plum Island stands as a resource for our community unlike any other. I have had the pleasure of visiting Plum Island in the past, and its natural beauty is truly unique. Approximately 90% of Plum Island has been sheltered from development, allowing it to preserve a diverse wildlife and ecosystem and a critical habitat for migratory birds, marine mammals, and rare plants. The beauty of this island is breathtaking, and one would think they were visiting a destination thousands of miles away from Long Island.
Originally belonging to the Corchaug and Montaukett Indian tribes, Plum Island possesses a rich history that dates back to the 1700’s. The island is the site of the first battle between British and Continental troops ordered by General George Washington. It also once held Fort Terry, a coastal defense fortification and artillery post that was used up until World War II. Following WWII, the site was used as an animal research facility, where research on infectious diseases was conducted. This facility has grown to become what is now known as the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and has conducted groundbreaking research on issues that affect all Americans, such as threats to our food supply.
However, in 2005, it was announced that the Animal Disease Center research would be moved to a new federal facility, the Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas. In addition, laws were passed in 2008 and 2011 mandating the sale of Plum Island by the federal government to the highest bidder. This is the wrong path forward, and I am committed to halting this misguided action and ensuring a better future for this treasured island. A feature so unique and exotic deserves to be cherished and preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder to be privately developed.
That is why I am honored to have reintroduced my legislation to stop the sale of Plum Island as H.R. 2182, the Plum Island Preservation Act. This bill will suspend the laws that mandated this public sale. In consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, which currently “owns” the island, this legislation will commission the Government Accountability Office to formulate a comprehensive plan for the future of the island. This plan must include alternative uses for the island, including a transfer of ownership to another federal agency, the state or local government, a nonprofit, or a combination thereof, and possess a focus on conservation, education, and research. Public access would be great while continuing a valuable research mission.
This legislation passed the House unanimously in the 114th Congress, as did my amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2017, H.R. 5485, which would have prohibited any of the funding within the appropriations bill to be used to market or sell Plum Island. I am proud to announce that, in the 115th Congress, my bill has again passed the House with unanimous bipartisan support. I would like to thank all of my colleagues in Congress who have worked alongside myself to advance this important cause, as well as all of the groups and individuals who have lent their support to Plum Island’s preservation. It is now upon the Senate to bring this bill to a vote and have it sent to the President’s desk. For the people of Long Island, this cause is far too important to allow it to slip away.
As members of one community, we value Plum Island as a precious resource that should not be sold off. This has been one of my top local priorities in Congress for an important reason, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Plum Island the amazing place it has been for centuries.
Congressman Lee Zeldin, a member of the Long Island Sound Caucus in the House of Representatives, represents the First Congressional District of New York.