The controversial plan that would allow for a 300 boat marina to be built at the southern end of Liberty State Park is not yet a done deal. But the man who obtained the documents describing 45-acres of private development on public land is fighting hard to stop it. Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin sat down with Senior Correspondent David Cruz.
Cruz: We should start by pointing out that Sam Pesin is the son of Morris Pesin, who is considered by everybody to be the “Father of Liberty State Park.” Now, you put in a Freedom of Information Act to finally get some drawings and to really confirm that this is an actual plan now, yes?
Pesin: Yes, it is. And this plan would be a destructive giveaway and a corporate takeover of the noncommercial, urban, family, peaceful, picnicing side of Liberty Park.
Cruz: It’s a mile long, 45-acres total, room for 300 boats.
Pesin: Yes. It is the ruination of the south side of the park. And not only do urban people come here to relax, for their mental health and quality of life, but people from all around New Jersey, all around our nation, come to this side of the park to be inspired by Lady Liberty and the open views of the Upper New York Bay.
Cruz: The southern end of the park is the part of the park that is least developed. There’s no marina on that side. There really is nothing but just incredible views and some jetties that people use as places to fish and stuff. Tell us a little bit about what you know about this deal. These people, Suntex is their name, correct? They’re based out of Texas and they operate the marina on the northern end of the park. So, they want to get what will eventually be a 50-year lease for the southern end of the park.
Pesin: Yes, exactly. This park was built with tens of millions of state and federal tax dollars. The park used to be a waterfront wasteland, and now it’s a beautiful park. And now Suntex, and so many other developers in the past, want to come in and exploit this public park land for their profits. We have a governor who has ignored the 40-year, strong, overwhelming majority consensus against privatization. People want a real park with open space and open views.
Cruz: So this is what the state says, they say that Suntex is going to pay $900,000 a year, going up every couple of years, for a lease on the southern end. And, in addition to that, they’re going to pay $45 million to restore and renovate the northern bulkhead. Isn’t that good?
Pesin: People have always said we want a free and green waterfront public park and have not cared about promised revenue. And that $43 million, I’m sure, is very much exaggerated. I heard it was only $10 million a couple of years ago. People are not going to want to sacrifice the priceless south side of the park for the north side bulkhead, where monies can be found in the coming years.
Cruz: Here’s what people say, is that your group, the Friends of Liberty State Park, don’t want to see any kind of development there and you really don’t care about running the park in terms of how much it costs. You’re more concerned about having free access to the park and taking into consideration the dollars that are necessary to keep it that way.
Pesin: The Friends of Liberty State Park and the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, and all organizations who have supported us and the public over the years have wanted a free park. We are representing the broad public consensus. And parks serve the public good, David. It’s the public interest. Parks, libraries, schools, that’s what our taxpayer dollars pay for. This uplifts our lives.
Cruz: They shouldn’t be responsible for paying for themselves, is what you’re saying?
Pesin: Exactly, parks should not have to pay for themselves. And the park brings in $1.5 to $2 million a year, and only needs about a million and a half from the $39 million state park legislative budget.
Cruz: Alright, let me ask you this real quick. What’s next? What is the process? I know you had to go get a Freedom of Information Act request in order to get this information, so the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] hasn’t been particularly forthcoming. What’s your sense of how the DEP has handled this?
Pesin: Well, we’re waiting to see how the governor’s going to rush this through before he leaves office. The land is previous. They want to take a parking lot away with 228 spaces and they want to take those priceless vistas away.
Cruz: Is there going to be a public hearing on this?
Pesin: The DEP says there will be.
Cruz: All right, let’s wait and see. Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park, thanks again for being with us.
Pesin: Thank you very much, David.