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Conservationists hail major victory in a decade-plus effort to preserve Plum Island

Plum Island Lighthouse
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Plum Island Light is on the western end of Plum Island, at the end of the North Fork of Long Island. An historical granite lighthouse originally built in 1869 sits at the site but no longer serves as an active aid to navigation. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

An effort to preserve a tiny island off the tip of Long Island got a major boost in the recently passed federal omnibus spending bill.

Language in a tiny portion of that $1.7 trillion spending package directs multiple federal agencies to brief Congress on potential costs for conserving and managing Plum Island.

“It’s to bring all the parties together to discuss in the open what’s required to move the island toward preservation,” said Louise Harrison with the advocacy group Save the Sound.

The 840-acre Plum Island is located about 1.5 miles off Orient Point. It’s owned by the federal government. For decades, it hosted a high-security government research lab.

That lab will close and its operations move to Kansas in the coming years. But the island’s isolation from major development has made it an ecological gold mine – providing key habitat for birds, seals, fish and coral.

The island is home to many historic buildings – including the National Register of Historic Places Plum Island Lighthouse and Fort Terry army barracks and weapons batteries.

The island also is highly valued by the Montaukett Indian Nation as part of its cultural heritage.

“This is a very important move towards the preservation and conservation of Plum Island, as well as the protection of the Montaukett people’s cultural heritage,” Sandi Brewster-walker, executive director and government affairs officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation, said in a statement.

Harrison said conservationists have worked for more than a decade to block major development on the island. She hopes the request by Congress will accelerate island preservation efforts.

“I think it sort of wraps it all together in a nice package. Puts a bow on it and says, ‘OK, we’re talking about this now. And we’re serious,’” Harrison said.

Harrison hopes the bill will pull together key information from multiple federal agencies. She hopes that information can be used to achieve conservationists’ major goal for the island: making it a National Monument, protecting the area from future development or sale.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.