Plum Island (New York)

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Plum Island
Native name:
Plum Island is located in New York
Plum Island
Plum Island
Plum Island (New York)
LocationBlock Island Sound/Long Island Sound
Coordinates41°10′59″N 72°11′25″W / 41.18306°N 72.19028°W / 41.18306; -72.19028Coordinates: 41°10′59″N 72°11′25″W / 41.18306°N 72.19028°W / 41.18306; -72.19028
Total islands1
Area840 acres (340 ha)
Length3 mi (5 km)
Width1 mi (2 km)

Plum Island is an island in the Town of Southold in Suffolk County, New York, in the United States. The island is situated in Gardiners Bay, east of Orient Point, off the eastern end of the North Fork coast of Long Island. It is about 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1-mile (1.6 km) wide at its widest point.[1]

The island is the site of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), which was established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1954. The Island is also the site of the former U.S. military installation Fort Terry (c. 1897), and the historic Plum Island Light (c. 1869), and its automated replacement.[1]

Plum Island is owned in its entirety by the United States government, which was considering sale of the island as part of a debt-reduction package,[2] but suspended the plan in February 2012.[3] Access to the island is controlled by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

On August 29, 2013, the United States General Services Administration (GSA) and United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final "Record of Decision (ROD): Public Sale of Plum Island, New York".[1]

A broad-based coalition of conservation, environmental, and civic organizations are working to preserve Plum Island, with its diverse and unique natural and cultural resources, for the public trust. These organizations include: the Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC),[4] the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, along with its permanent regional program Save the Sound [5] and Soundkeeper, Inc.[6]


The northern portion of Plum Island is a recessional moraine deposit, part of the Harbor Hill-Roanoke Point-Fishers Island-Charlestown Moraine, and thus is one of the Outer Lands. Boulders in the moraine can be seen in the eroding northern slope of the island.


George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845–1887). Lighthouse Keeper, Plum Island, Long Island, 1879. Collodion silver glass wet plate negative. Brooklyn Museum

Plum Island was called "Manittuwond" by the Native American Pequot Nation. It was probably first seen by Europeans in 1614 when Adriaen Block, a Dutchman employed by the Dutch West India Company, charted the area. The island was named from the beach plums that grow along the shores, and an old Dutch map made about 1640 shows the name "Pruym Eyelant" (Plum Island). In 1659, the Island was purchased by Samuel Wyllys III (Samuel Willis III), son of the Governor of Connecticut, from Wyandanch, the ruling local Indian Chieftain of Long Island, for a coat, a barrel of biscuits and 100 fishhooks.[7]

On August 11, 1775, General David Wooster dispatched 120 soldiers to the island, then known as Plumb Island, who were immediately fired upon by the British. After firing a single return volley the soldiers retreated back to Long Island. Although no casualties were reported, this brief skirmish is believed to have represented at least one American military "first": the first amphibious assault by an American army.[citation needed]

The historic Plum Island Lighthouse is located at the west end of the island. The original lighthouse on Plum Island was constructed in 1827; the current structure was built in 1869. The light marks the east side of "Plum Gut", a mile-wide entrance to Long Island Sound with extremely strong tidal currents. The light aided navigation near the entrance to Long Island Sound, especially through the "Plum Gut" channel between Orient Point and Plum Island.[8]

Aerial view of Plum Island Animal Disease Center

After passing through the possession of more than 20 families, in 1899 the Island was purchased in its entirety by the United States Government following the Spanish–American War for approximately $90,000. The U.S. Army established a Coast Artillery post, later known as Fort Terry on the Island in 1897. During World War II the Fort was activated as an anti-submarine base and deactivated after World War II. The Fort was later reactivated and assigned to the Army Chemical Corps.

In 1954 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). The Center conducts research on animal pathogens to protect farmers, ranchers, and the national food supply. Because of the nature of the research, access to the Island and the research facility is restricted.

In 2003, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assumed ownership of the Island and all its facilities. The USDA continues its long running science mission at PIADC jointly with DHS, who are charged with the safe and secure operation of the facility.

As one result of the heightened national security initiatives following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Plum Island was considered as a potential site for a new high-security animal diseases lab, National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). In September 2008, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 110-329 (Sec. 540 - New York) that directed the General Services Administration (GSA) to close the PIADC, sell the Island to the public, and to use the proceeds towards the construction of the NBAF, if it were decided that NBAF would be built elsewhere. In January 2009, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) selected the City of Manhattan, Kansas, as the site for the NBAF, and decided to relocate the PIADC there as well.[9] However, the decline in real estate values stemming from the subprime mortgage crisis and late-2000s recession caused the sale of the Island to be considered no longer viable. Because the proceeds from selling the Island were needed to construct the new facility in Kansas, the project was effectively cancelled for the short term when the 2013 federal budget request contained no funding for the new facility.[10] As part of the planned sale of Plum Island, the United States Government has been preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Island, one objective of which is to determine whether the impact of nearly sixty years of animal testing on the Island constitutes a threat to public health that could preclude the planned sale.[11]

Historical Society book[edit]

In June 2012, the Southold Historical Society announced that it planned to publish a detailed history of Plum Island from the period of colonial settlement through modern times. The book, according to the Society, would correct a number of errors and mistakes in previous historical examinations, and provide the first complete, annotated history of the Island to date.[12] The Society stated further that it was currently looking for original documents and images relating to the historic structures and families that once occupied Plum Island.[12]

In September 2014, the Southold Historical Society announced the publication of the new book "A World Unto Itself: The Remarkable History of Plum Island, New York" documenting the history of Plum Island from its creation to the present day.[13] Among the topics covered is the Island's use by British forces during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the Island's use as a place of recreation during the "Leisure Age," as well as serving as the location of the 1914 court martial of Benjamin M. Koehler, whose conviction on charges of homosexuality eventually led to the policy of Don't ask, don't tell[dubious ].[13] The Society noted in its press release regarding the release of the book:

"Through its many incarnations, Plum Island has managed to remain in a semi-natural state. Today, it provides a rare glimpse of what Long Island and much of the Northeast was like before it was gripped by progress. At the same time, it bears the marks of the human history that has unfolded there: the lighthouse tended by so many stalwarts; the narrow roads, rusted railroad tracks and overgrown artillery batteries once filled with soldiers who never saw combat; and, of course, the modern-day facility where the daily pursuit of science both moves us forward and pushes us away."[14]

Future, public activism, current legislative activity[edit]

In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed, and U.S. President George W. Bush signed Public Law 110-329 (Sec. 540 - New York), part of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, which requires the sale of Plum Island and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) to help with the funding of the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas. This legislation started the process that may ultimately end with the Federal Government’s sale of all of Plum Island to a private party.

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its permanent, regional program Save the Sound, and Soundkeeper, Inc., are the two organizations which are spearheading the legal aspects of the movement to preserve Plum Island, including the repeal of Public Law 110-329 (Sec. 540 - New York). In addition, a broad-based coalition of conservation, environmental, and civic, organizations, and others, have formed the Preserve Plum Island Coalition (PPIC), for the common purpose of protecting Plum Island for the public trust. The PPIC advocate that Plum Island be considered for designation as a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) or other protected area. The Proposal of the PPIC, notes that in recent decades the Federal Government has established a number of NWRs in the eastern Peconic/southern New England region. These NWRs include: Nomans Land Island, off the coast of Massachusetts; Block Island, Sachuest Point, John H. Chafee, Trustom Pond, and Ninigret, in coastal Rhode Island; the ten units of Stuart B. McKinney NWR stretching along the Connecticut coastline; and Elizabeth A. Morton NWR, in Sag Harbor, New York.[15]

On July 16, 2013, former U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop (First Congressional District of New York) introduced a new bipartisan bill ('Save, Don't Sell Plum Island'). This goal of this bill was to preserve critical biodiversity, and prevent further development, on Plum Island, by eliminating the current requirement in law that all of Plum Island be sold at public auction as part of the construction of the new planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) facility to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) on Plum Island.[16] Similar legislation was also introduced in the U.S. Senate at the same time as that in the U.S. House of Representatives.

On August 29, 2013, the USDA and DHS announced a final Record of Decision (ROD) which determined that the entirety of Plum Island be sold to the private sector to help offset the cost of constructing a new facility for the PIADC in Manhattan, Kansas.

On September 30, 2013, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo sent a letter to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and United States General Services Administration (GSA), calling for both agencies to submit to a consent order requiring them to present a comprehensive environmental cleanup plan for Plum Island, in Suffolk County, New York, and giving New York State final review of the Island’s conditions before it is put up for sale.[17]

On January 5, 2015, The Connecticut Fund For the Environment (CFE) & Save The Sound jointly sent a letter to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), indicating a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue these agencies. This letter outlined how the final disposition of Plum Island, under the current terms of Public Law 110-329, was in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).[18]

On April 1, 2015, New York and Connecticut Senators Senators Schumer, Gillibrand, Blumenthal and Murphy, sent a letter to the Appropriation Committee asking for the repeal of Public Law 110-329. The Senators explained that the original financial reasoning to sell Plum Island was no longer valid, and that it was in the best interest of the country to conserve Plum Island.[19]

On April 17, 2015, Congressman Lee Zeldin, representing the 1st District of New York, re-introduced H.R. 1887, legislation intended to protect Plum Island, which was previously sponsored by his predecessor, Congressman Tim Bishop. The goal of the legislation is to reverse Public Law 110-329 that mandated the public sale of Plum Island by the federal government to the highest bidder. Congressman Zeldin said he has always supported keeping the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) open, as well as conserving the natural resources on the Island. He plans to work with his Congressional colleagues on a bi-partisan basis, to seek passage of the bill.[20]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs by author Thomas Harris mentions "Plum Island" as a potential supervised vacation site for Hannibal Lecter as a reward for helping to catch Jame Gumb. He derisively refers to it as "Anthrax Island." It is also used in this way in the movie adaptation of the novel.
  • Plum Island is a 1997 novel by Long Island, New York author Nelson DeMille, who uses the Island as one of his settings in the book.
  • The 2004 book Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory by Michael Carroll, Ph.D., examines the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC).
  • Plum Island is the title and focus of one episode of the television series Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. The episode was originally broadcast on Oct. 15, 2010, in Season Two.
  • Plum Island is theorized by some to be the origin of the monster in the 2008 movie Cloverfield.
  • Plum Island is referred to in Season 4, Episode 4, "Dawn of the Med", of the show Royal Pains.
  • Plum Island is the location of a deadly government conspiracy in the 2014 novel, The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea.
  • Plum Island is the location of the Advanced Neurotechnologies Laboratory (ANS) in the 2016 novel Game Changer by Douglas E. Richards
  • Plum Island is the location of the US government's main research facility trying to stop the Hemorrhage Virus in the post-apocalyptic Extinction Cycle series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith.
  • "Plum Island" is a song by the band Waterparks featured on their album, Double Dare.
  • “Plum Island” is mentioned in season 3 of the Netflix series Hemlock Grove.
  • Plum Island is the setting for portions of Season 1, episodes 12 and 13 of the ABC series Emergence.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Corey Kilgannon (September 14, 2016). "Home to High-Security Lab and Source of Rumors, Plum Island Faces Uncertain Future". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Gerges, David (30 September 2011). "'Beautiful views and harbour... in need of bit of biohazard work': Government tries to sell $80m animal disease island to pay off its debts". Daily Mail. London.
  3. ^ "$50M+ sale of Plum Island put on backburner". The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News. February 22, 2012.
  4. ^ "Preserve Plum Island".
  5. ^ "CT Fund for the Environment & Save the Sound".
  6. ^ "Soundkeeper – Protecting & Preserving Long Island Sound". Archived from the original on 2018-08-28. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  7. ^ Peter Ross and William Smith Pelletreau. A History of Long Island: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Volume 2. Long Island, NY: Lewis Publishing Company, 1905. See Town of Southold – Plum ("Plumme") ("Plumbe") Island
  8. ^ Plum Island Light, Plum Island, NY
  9. ^ Newsday, "EPA seeks environmental review before Plum Island sale", June 4, 2010
  10. ^ Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (14 February 2012). "Planned Kansas Biodefense Laboratory Over the Rainbow?". ScienceInsider. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Record of Decision for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Environmental Impact Statement". Federal Register. January 16, 2009.
  12. ^ a b Interview with staff at the Southold Historical Society, June 2012
  13. ^ a b Interview with staff at the Southold Historical Society, September 2014
  14. ^ "Southold Historical Society".
  15. ^ "Proposal of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition".
  16. ^ Civiletti, Denise (July 16, 2013). "Bishop introduces 'Save, don't sell Plum Island' legislation". RiverheadLOCAL. Riverhead, New York: East End Local Media Corp. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Rep. Lee Zeldin Announces Introduction of Legislation to Protect Plum Island". 17 April 2015.

Further reading

External links[edit]