Enviros Band Together to Stop Sale of Plum Island

     BROOKLYN (CN) — Environmentalists brought a federal complaint to block the U.S. government’s planned sale of a tiny island on the outskirts of Long Island that they worry would jeopardize a whole host of endangered flora and fauna.
     For sale: Plum Island, a remote, tiny island off the easternmost stretches of New York, owned by the U.S. government. At stake: everything living there.
     The feds have owned the island since 1826, using it as a research facility for animal disease since at least 1954.
     The Department of Homeland Security decided to move its animal disease research facility to Kansas in 2009, however, and is now trying to get rid of the island at auction to the highest bidder.
     In a federal complaint filed Thursday, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Peconic Baykeeper Group for the East End and others say the plans to peddle off the spit of island will kill the rare inhabitants that live there.
     The 46-page complaint counts at least six ways Uncle Sam failed to ensure that the animals and plants threatened by the island’s auction would be protected.
     “Defendants ill-considered decision to sell Plum Island, and the fundamentally flawed [report that was constructed] supporting that decision, threaten the continued existence of the endangered species that inhabit Plum Island, the ecology of Long Island Sound, and violate numeral federal laws,” the complaint states.
     The environmental groups behind the lawsuit say their members flock to the one-road island because they’re enthused by bird-watching, fishing, watching the marine life, and studying “environmental structural history of the grounds and buildings on Plum Island.”
     “Given the deep appreciation of its members, Save the Sound and its members have a direct interest in the preservation of Plum Island,” they say.
     Named plaintiffs tried to buy the island themselves to “preserve this unique ecosystem,” but the U.S. government allegedly pushed them aside and put out an online auction to the highest bidder to get it. That means it can go to developers, and mean it’s going to kill all its natural beauty, they fear.
     Named plaintiffs also worry that the “habitat for endangered species” is not only threatened, but the sale of it to by developers would result in an “increase in traffic.”
     There’s only one road that leads to the island, and that would upend all that plaintiffs enjoy.
     Plum Island is an 840-acre mile island located 1.5 miles off the northeast of Orient Point on Long Island.
     It used to be the base of the U.S. Army’s Fort Terry, a World War II coastal hub. It went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1954. In 2003 it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.
     Since then, only about 170 acres of the island have been developed by the residents who live there.
     Through environmentalists’ community activism, access to the island has been “limited and highly regulated,” the lawsuit states.
     The island features “undisturbed habitat” that includes 196 acres of upland forest, 96 acres of freshwater wetlands and 101 acres of a “beach/dune” system.
     It is home to up to 20 different rare plants listed on the U.S. government’s endangered list. Among them: sandplain geradia, seabech knotweed, seabeach amaranth and small wholed pogonia.
     It’s also home to over 217 species of rare birds, including roseate terns, listed as federally endangered, and piping plovers, another endangered species of bird.
     At least 57 species of endangered osprey call the island home as well.
     Whales, dolphins and seals often come there to forage.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Chris Carr with Morrison Foerster in Manhattan.
     Politicians have also joined the fray in support of blocking the sale.
     “Plum Island should be preserved and protected, not violated and diminished,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, calling the sale “senseless” and a threat to the inhabitants on the island.
     The island sits in the bay between Connecticut and Long Island.
     Blumenthal’s colleague in Congress, Sen. Chris Murphy, called Plum Island “an ecological gem right in Connecticut’s backyard.”
     “Once it’s sold to developers, it’s gone forever,” Murphy warned. “That’s why we need to use every tool at our disposal to protect Plum Island and its natural treasures from development.”
     Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro called the island a “natural treasure,” adding that its inhabitants deserve the responsibility that everyone fights “to ensure their protection and preservation.”
     She threw her weight earlier this week behind an amendment on the House floor in Washington, D.C., to block the sale. “I will continue to fight to prevent the sale of the island through the legislative process,” DeLauro warned.

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