House approves measure that would halt Plum Island sale

An aerial view of Plum Island

File Photo

An aerial view of Plum Island

Washington – Those who want to prevent the development of  Plum Island won a key victory Thursday as the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that would stop the sale of the island that for years has been the site of a biological lab and off limits to most of the public.

Sponsored by Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; Peter King, R-N.Y.; and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., an amendment that would prohibit spending money to market or sell the 840-acre island in Long Island Sound was attached to a bill that would fund the General Services Administration, the agency in charge of the sale.

“Plum Island is a scenic and biological treasure … home to a rich assortment of rare plant and animal species that need to be walled off from human interference,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Nearly everyone involved in this issue agrees that it should be preserved as a natural sanctuary – not sold off to the highest bidder for development.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ran biological experiments for decades on the island, working on animal diseases like swine flu and foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious livestock illness.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now in charge of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility on Plum Island and is shutting down operations there and moving the laboratory to Manhattan, Kansas.

The GSA already has begun to market the property, and presidential hopeful Donald Trump was once interested in turning it into a golf course.

The GSA spending bill is expected to be approved by the House late Thursday.

“This will not be the end of the fight to preserve Plum Island,” the lawmakers said, “but this will provide us with more time to find a permanent solution for protecting the Island for generations to come.”

In the Senate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal has  sponsored a bill, supported by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would bar the sale of Plum Island and instead transfer it to another federal agency.

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