Groups threaten lawsuit over Plum Island sale

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Two environmental groups say they intend to sue two federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act for pursuing the public sale of federally owned Plum Island in Long Island Sound.

Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Soundkeeper issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue to the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration.

The organizations allege that the agencies have failed to protect endangered and threatened species while pursuing a public sale of the federally owned island.

“For decades, Plum Island has been a refuge for rare wildlife in our highly developed region,” Save the Sound director of legislative and legal affairs Leah Lopez Schmalz said in a statement. “The island and the waters around it are a safe haven for terns, plovers, sea turtles, rare orchids and untold thousands of migrating birds each year.”

The General Services Administration and Homeland Security conducted an environmental assessment and issued a final recommendation for a sale “without sufficiently consulting the federal wildlife agencies versed in protecting these threatened species, even though they acknowledge that the species are present and development of the island could affect them,” Schmalz said.

“Congress’ decision to sell Plum Island was flawed from the start, and GSA’s process since then has only compounded that unacceptable mistake,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Failure to protect this environmental treasure — and the endangered species that rely on its pristine habitat — would be a true crime against nature. Either through legislation or other legal measures we must ensure that Plum Island’s unique and extraordinary land is preserved for generations to come. Connecticut and the region owe Save the Sound a debt of gratitude for their unflagging advocacy and commitment to this vital issue.”

"Congress made a mistake in authorizing this sale and I'm thankful to Save the Sound for bringing this oversight to the attention of the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “The failure to consult with multiple wildlife and fisheries services before permitting the sale of Plum Island sets a bad precedent for the protection of Long Island Sound and Connecticut.”

Plum Island, an 840-acre island at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, has long been home to a federal animal disease research facility that restricts human presence.

As a result, the island’s diverse array of habitats has become a de facto wildlife refuge. Shore-nesting birds such as the federally endangered roseate tern and the federally threatened piping plover use its shores, as do 57 bird species listed as of Greatest Conservation Need in New York, such as the Osprey and Common Eider.

The waters around the island are a probable habitat for five species of sea turtles that are listed as threatened and endangered. Threatened plants and insects also populate the island and its rocks are one of the most important seal haul-out areas in southern New England.


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