Plum Island Hearing May 7: Zoning Island Could Save It from Development

While we wait for the federal government to release the final Environmental Impact Statement on Plum Island, we at Save the Sound are working hard looking at other ways to prevent the island from being sold to the highest bidder. On May 7, there will be a chance for the public to speak in support of local zoning to protect the island.

For those who may not know, Plum Island, an 843-acre island in New York waters just ten miles off Connecticut’s shore, has long been the home of a federal research facility. The limited human presence has allowed most of the island to remain an undeveloped sanctuary for wildlife and native plants. It’s a breeding site for threatened birds like piping plovers, and home to the largest seal haul-out in southern New England.

The federally endangered Piping Plover nest on Plum Island
The federally endangered Piping Plover nest on Plum Island
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When our federal and state governments identified 33 stewardship sites around Long Island Sound, Plum Island and the nearby Gull Islands—which together host the largest colony of roseate terns in the western hemisphere—were recognized as  an “exemplary” habitat deserving of special protection.

Now, though, this rare island is at risk. The federal government plans to move the facility, so it is preparing to auction Plum Island to the highest bidder.

Aerial View of the Plum Island Animal Disease CenterPhoto courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Aerial View of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center
Photo: Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Intensive private development could ruin wildlife habitats, pollute the Sound, and preclude public access. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The undeveloped majority of the island could be added to the existing wildlife refuge system along the Sound’s coastline. Its beaches, marshes, and forests could be protected as open space, and trails added for the public to enjoy. The already-developed portion could be sold for low impact re-use, such as a university research center. There are many options that would let Connecticut and New York citizens connect with one of the Sound’s last great places.

Plum Island AerialPhoto: Wikimedia Commons
Plum Island
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Plum Island is part of the Town of Southold, one of the towns on the North Fork of Long Island. Because Plum Island is currently federal property, it has no local zoning restrictions. When it leaves federal hands, however, it will become part of Southold. As such, the town has the ability to zone Plum Island to ensure that fragile habitats are protected from future development. Luckily, town officials recognize the environmental and recreational importance of Plum Island and are proposing zoning districts on the island.

Specifically, the town is proposing the creation of a:

  • Plum Island Conservation District to preserve the integrity of the regionally significant natural, scenic and historic resources of Plum Island for the benefit of the residents of the Town of Southold; and
  • Plum Island Research District to encourage the use of land for research and education opportunities, provide employment opportunities and to preserve the island’s significant natural, historic, scenic and cultural resources.

The creation of these districts would limit what Plum Island can and cannot be used for and therefore prevent inappropriate development that could damage wildlife habitat and water quality. The proposal lists acceptable uses of the island that include a nature preserve, public park for passive recreation, educational facility, and museums.


A public hearing is being held on the zoning and districting of Plum Island on May 7, 2013 at 7:30 P.M. at Southold Town Hall.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to be heard at this hearing, so please mark your calendar and spread the word to any friends on the North Fork.

Stay tuned, Save the Sound and our partners at the Preserve Plum Island Coalition will be providing talking points and additional information as we get closer to the hearing.

Posted by Rebecca Kaplan, director of communications for CFE/Save the Sound

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