By Briana Vannozzi
The so-called “clean up bill” for Liberty State Park is doing little to ease concerns from park advocates who fear it will face commercial development.
“The fact that the governor refused to sign Sen. [Steve] Sweeney’s first revision version which would have separated the park from the Meadowlands shows the governor’s determination to privatize this priceless urban public land,” said Sam Pesin of Friends of Liberty State Park.
The new law keeps park ownership with the state’s environmental department. That’s a win says Pesin. The loss? The Meadowlands Commission is still has planning involvement with Liberty park but it should have nothing to do with the park,” Pesin said.
The language of the law states that when it comes to further development, preservation or enhancements at the park “…Meadowlands Regional Commission would only evaluate, approve or implement any plan or plans…at the request of the commissioner of environmental protection.”
Giving the final approval to the state DEP commissioner, a man environmental groups have accused of being in lock step with the governor.
“When you have a secret bill and you fast track it and you don’t share the information with the public and there’s no public advisory meetings like there have been all before the Christie administration, then you can’t help but think the worst,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Greg Remaud.
The 1,100-acre space in Hudson County — one of the most densely populated in the state — has stunning views and has long been the target for privatization. When the park was just a year old, Gov. Brendan Byrne proposed turning it over to an amusement park. Pesin says the groups will fight any major proposals.
“There will be a massive, passionate grassroots movement,” he said.
The state commissioned developers to put forward potential plans last year, but have yet to make those details public. A spokesperson for the DEP defended the legislation today.
“Liberty State Park is one of the crown jewels of the state park system, but it’s a big place that operates at an annual loss. We think we can do better and, frankly, we have an obligation to try, all while still maintaining the spirit and the character of the park,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Press Director Bob Considine.
“What we’d like to see is what those recommendations are have some input and make sure its not commercial sweetheart deals which we’ve had to deal with in the past. Make sure that some friend of a friend doesn’t get a hotel lease,” said Remaud.
The group mainly fears plans a commercial concert stage, a plan that’s cropped up in the past. But their concern — that it would create traffic nightmares and take away one of the few free recreational areas families have to enjoy.
“That’s always a good idea to generate money but then you never know where that money is going. Is that money really going anywhere to help anyone? In this area that even lives in this area,” said Jersey City resident Dorothy.
One other change to the legislation — any potential projects will be subject to at least one public hearing. Though park advocates say with 5 million visitors annually, one hearing isn’t nearly enough.