By David Cruz
It’s a war over words. A new bill intended to ensure that the state’s most-visited state park remains a state-controlled park is falling short, say critics. Last week, the governor signed a bill that gave oversight of future development of the Liberty State Park to the newly-formed Meadowlands Regional Commission, promising that language in a new bill would make sure that decisions on the park’s future development would remain with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. But, advocates for the park say the new bill doesn’t guarantee anything.
“This language still doesn’t even make clear that the DEP would have final say in approvals because it clearly says that the commission shall approve and implement plans,” said Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park.
The bill says that the Meadowlands Regional Commission shall “at the request of the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, evaluate, approve and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement or improvement of Liberty State Park.” It also says, “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to transfer ownership of any of the property of Liberty State Park to the commission or any other person.”
“We don’t want this commission to have that power to approve and implement plans and the broad public consensus has always been for non-privatized park and this commission would be used to facilitate and ramrod privatization plans,” said Pesin, “so ‘approve and implement’ must come out of this bill.”
The 1,200-acre park is known for its incredible view of the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty, but its vast open spaces are an oasis in one of the most densely-populated regions of the country. Still, there are privately run enterprises here, like restaurant banquet halls and a marina.
“From the beginning we have said there are good investments that can be made, right here in the central railroad terminal, as long as it’s appropriate for parks and people can benefit,” added Greg Remaud, deputy director for the NY/NJ Baykeeper. “Amenities are in parks everywhere, private amenities, but they have to be what’s good for the park.”
And that means more playgrounds and trails for walking and biking, maybe a place to get a burger or a salad and small-scale concert facilities. Not hotels or convention centers or more parking lots. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, sponsor of the original bill and this supposed fix, says the park is safe.
“The DEP requested the language giving it the ability to use the Meadowlands Regional Commission as a tool to evaluate and implement plans and the commission can only become involved at the request of the DEP commissioner,” said Prieto in a statement today. “No changes can ever be made to the park without the consent of the DEP.”
The speaker said he wants to fast track this bill, which park supporters say is a bad idea. They say they want to see public hearings on the issue.
Over the years there have been a lot of development plans floated for this park — water slide, golf course. Someone even wanted to put a food court and a mini mall at the central railroad terminal. But this is the first time that the state has actually tried to create a mechanism to facilitate that development. It seems clear to most observers now that when it comes to development in Liberty State Park, it’s no longer a question of if, but more a question of when.