Contact

Testimony In Opposition to Liberty State Park Privatization (A4264) to the Assembly State & Local Government Committee

For Immediate Release

I speak to express our grave concerns regarding A4264/S2807, legislation to establish the Liberty State Park Design Task Force and appropriate $250 million toward the park.  We still see this legislation as a dangerous attempt to privatize sections of Liberty State Park, lands held in the public trust for open space.

At 4.8 million visitors per year, Liberty State Park has as many visitors as Yellowstone and more than the Grand Canyon, Delaware Water Gap, Acadia and Cape Cod National Seashore. Hudson County is the 6th most densely populated county in the county. Liberty State Park is literally an urban green oasis and there has been extensive NJDEP stakeholder process to expand active recreational opportunities in the park.

In its current form, we are proud to join the Friends of Liberty State Park and other allied organizations from across the state to still strongly oppose this bill. In addition to the specific concerns outlined below, we are concerned at the speed which this legislation is moving when the Liberty State Park Protection Act (A1957/S907) has failed to be enacted into law. Passage of the Liberty State Park Protection Act would assuage many of the concerns we raise here, and if A4264/S2807 were to move forward in any form, we strongly urge it is in conjunction with the Liberty State Park Protection Act. This would best protect the Park against privatization and preserve it as a public green space for future generations in an area that lacks significant access to open spaces. 

While we are encouraged by recent amendments from the State Senate to remove mandatory revenue generating language, we are still concerned by the possibility of privatization of sections of Liberty State Park, lands held in the public trust. In its current form, we continue to oppose this bill.

However, we wish to be clear on the nature of our opposition. We are 100% supportive of the need for active recreational opportunities for residents, particularly those who live in close proximity to the park. We support investment in the park, creation of more active and passive recreational opportunities, and increased public access. However, protection of critical natural spaces and habitat areas and additional active recreation are not mutually exclusive.

In its current form, this bill has no protections for Caven Point, a natural area, migratory bird habitat, and nesting area. This serves as salt marsh and wetlands habitat for migratory bird species. Once gone, it cannot be replaced. Therefore, we urge the committee to amend the bill to create permanent protections for Caven Point. This area has seen many threats from development since the Park’s creation in 1976 and including these permanent protections would ensure this natural space, public access to the water, and outdoor classroom would continue to serve residents and visitors alike for generations.

In addition, the current text of the bill does not incorporate the recommendations of the 2020 NJDEP New Vision Plan, which was developed with extensive input from a wide array of stakeholders. We support the plan’s proposal for development of 50 acres of active recreation in the interior of the park, with almost 11 additional acres of active recreation in four locations throughout the park as well. This limit to 50 acres in the interior of the park will allow for effective restoration and remediation while still providing much-needed recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.

We have identified the following deficiencies with A4264/S2807 in its current form. Please see below for specific language recommendations, which include suggestions for membership of the task force as well.

1.       The bill must contain permanent protections for Caven Point Natural Area Migratory Bird Habitat and Nesting Area. This critical area serves as salt marsh and wetlands habitat for migratory bird species, and once gone, it cannot be replaced.

2.       The bill should support the acreage development recommendations from the NJDEP 2020 New Vision Plan developed with significant public input and transparency. Specifically, active recreation should be designated within 50 acres in the interior, with no more than 62 total active recreation development throughout the park. This would allow for a balance of active recreation, passive reservation, and preserved lands.

3.       The bill must contain provisions prohibiting large-scale commercialization, keeping all parts of the park as it was meant to be – a resource for residents and visitors alike to enjoy open space and recreation opportunities. Only small-scale commercial activities should be permitted.

4.       The bill needs prescriptive language outlining how the $250 million will be allocated, specifically for free public access to recreational opportunities, habitats, park staffing, shuttle buses, and for remediation and renovation of the CCRNJ Terminal Sheds.

We are grateful to the sponsors for their openness to previous amendments to strengthen the bill, including those that removed language mandating the park generate revenue; prohibiting the construction of a casino within the park; and creating a more robust public participation process.

We urge the Committee members to hold the legislation until these amendments can be added to the Assembly version of the legislation to ensure that we are preserving Liberty State Park for ALL and maintain the Park as the jewel of our park system and a resource for all.

Specific Language Recommendations:

 

·       Language prohibiting large-scale private development should be included, specifically: The Department of Environmental Protection shall:

     a.     not consider any proposal to commercialize, develop, or privatize Liberty State Park, except as provided in accordance with the provisions of small-scale commercial enterprise for the direct benefit of park users as defined in A 1957 (“Liberty State Park Protection Act”);

     b.    not convey, lease, or otherwise transfer any property rights within:

 (2)   the 21.5-acre Caven Point Peninsula, the estuarine ecosystem for plants and animals, critical bird breeding habitat, and urban environmental education resource, which stretches into the Upper New York Bay and is identified on the tax maps of Jersey City as: [Block and Lot Numbers]. Liberty State Park’s Caven Point Peninsula will remain an undeveloped Natural Area that continues to serve as Migratory Bird Habitat and Nesting Area and as an outdoor environmental education site protected from development and privatization in perpetuity.

      c.    limit development for active recreation to within 50 acres in the interior of the park and no more than 62 acres active recreation total.

·       The $250 million proposed in this bill will be used exclusively for the creation of free active recreation, such as ballfields, basketball courts, and running track, as listed in the NJDEP active recreation surveys for Liberty State Park; natural area improvements and restoration; park staffing; shuttle buses to transport visitors to and around Liberty State Park; improvements to public access into and within the park, along both the north and south entrances to the park; remediation of contaminated areas within the park; and necessary repairs, including the CRRNJ Terminal Sheds and bulkheads along the waterfront