Aug 22, 2013
05:57 AMConnecticut Politics
After Homeland Security Told Blumenthal No Plum Island Visit, Senator Finds Plan B
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal toured the waters off Plum Island Wednesday, bringing attention to the environmental fate of the island. Charles Rothenberger, staff attorney for Save the Sound, left, familiarizes the legislators with the layout of the island.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, and Connecticut and New York environmental advocates have talked for months about how important a natural resource Plum Island, N.Y., is.
They’ve talked about what a jewel it is — and how horrible it would be to lose such a gem to large-scale development if the federal government follows through with plans to move the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to a new, higher-security $1.4 billion facility in Manhattan, Kan.
On Wednesday, they did the best they could to let people see for themselves.
Blumenthal and Courtney got hold of a big enough boat — the Sound School of New Haven’s Island Rover — and took more than a dozen environmental advocates and activists and a handful of press out to see the isolated 840-acre island’s perimeter and the wildlife attracted to it.
“I actually wanted to go on the island,” said Blumenthal, whose idea the trip was, but the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, which owns it, wouldn’t allow it.
The location itself, along with its wildlife habitat, its beaches and “the uniqueness of it,” are “as important as any other aspects” of Plum Island, said Blumenthal soon after the boat left a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection dock on the Connecticut River in Old Lyme.
“A picture of this island as a pristine natural resource is worth a lot of rhetoric,” he said, and places like Plum Island “can’t be regained once they’re lost.”
Later, with Plum Island’s mysterious old, now-closed Lab 257 visible in the distance, Blumenthal said, “If this were owned privately, we would be wringing our hands to try to save it.”
Courtney said that while people may have heard how special Plum Island is, there’s no substitute “for going out and seeing it first-hand.”
The way the federal General Services Administration has gone about the process to sell Plum Island — guided by a bill Congress passed in 2009 requiring that it be sold to defray the cost of building the new facility — “is not the normal GSA disposition process,” Courtney said.
There are two efforts under way in Washington: one to challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “whole plan to move this whole facility to Kansas” and one to reverse the decision to sell Plum Island rather than transfer it to another agency, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said.