By Brenda Flanagan
The views make developers drool. Lady Liberty silhouetted against the shimmering Manhattan skyline ogled from 600 prime waterfront acres, also known as Liberty State Park. Location, location, location.
“People have always wanted to exploit the park, to make money from the park, but it’s sacred because it’s urban open space and because it’s next to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,” said Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin.
Park advocates and conservationists understand the irresistible lure to develop this valuable resource and that’s why their red flags shot up recently when New Jersey lawmakers quietly slipped last-minute lines into a bill merging the Meadowlands Commission and Sports and Exposition Authority. Critics claim the added language gives the Meadowlands Regional Commission control over development at Liberty State Park.
“It stinks, even for New Jersey politics,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Dep. Director Greg Remaud.
The NY/NJ Baykeeper questions the motives here.
“When you take a state park and move it into a commission that has nothing to do with state parks — that’s a clear signal that something bad’s going to happen,” Remaud said.
The bill says the Commission can “Evaluate, approve, and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement or improvement of Liberty State Park.” It can also, “Avail itself of any plan under review by the Department of Environmental Protection,” and adds, “Approved plans shall constitute a project of the commission.”
“This would violate the American Spirit if this bill was passed, stealing the park from the DEP and the public and giving it to a politically connected commission,” said Pesin.
“They’re supposed to be protecting them, not selling them off in political bargains and back rooms at the last minute,” Remaud said. “When you rush things through in dark corners, you very rarely get something good. What you really get is things like that Xanadu mall.”
Of the Meadowlands Commission’s 13 members, Gov. Christie would appoint six — and three would be members of his cabinet.
The bill now sits on Gov. Christie’s desk, and his intentions are clear, says Sen. Ray Lesniak, “Christie wants to ease commercial development of the park.”
We got no response from the governor’s office. Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says, critics are over reacting.
“DEP is still the one governing the park. So they wouldn’t be making decision unless DEP is choosing to do that,” said Prieto.
But Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop doesn’t like what he reads in the bill.
“The concern was what the Administration put in late and we all share that concern and we’re gonna be working to make sure that down the road we hopefully get an amendment to have it removed,” said Fulop.
Open space advocates pledge they will fight this commission and commercial development in the park. They say they consider it a sacred duty to defend the public trust — one that transcends politics.