ENVIRONMENT

Jersey City files lawsuit to halt Liberty State Park marina project

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Families brought kids bundled against the cold, while cyclists rolled along the waterfront and birdwatchers looked for snowy owls around the old jetties on the southern end of Liberty State Park. This is where Texas developer Suntex would build a 300-slip marina along the shoreline behind the Statue of Liberty. On Tuesday, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced the city’s lawsuit to block the proposal.

“We are committed to fighting tooth and nail to stop this horrible plan that would develop a millionaire’s marina on the south side of the park,” said Fulop.

“The Suntex plan would obliterate the south side as a sanctuary, in this crowded and concrete region, and would ruin the park as a recreational, mental health and spiritual public resource,” said Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park.

RELATED: DEP plan for mile-long marina at Liberty State Park revealed

Suntex already operates a marina at the park’s north end, and signed a term of agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection to expand operations here by 10 acres, in addition to leasing 45 additional acres on the south end for a new marina, including the free parking lot. Suntex would pay at least $900,000 a year to start, for an exclusive, 25-year lease plus, pay $25 million to fix the north marina bulkhead, repairs the NJ DEP calls “urgently needed … to safeguard existing facilities.” The state says the deal “aims to improve and enhance the park’s current infrastructure and its amenities.” But, environmentalists disagree.

“They just made it up. It’s an excuse to give away one of the most valued assets of the people of New Jersey to a marina company and mega-millionaire yachts. That’s what this is all about,” according to the Director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club Jeff Tittel.

In a statement, Suntex senior vice president Ron TenEyck calls the threat of a lawsuit “completely misguided.” He adds that “while our opponents have painted the proposed marina as the playground of millionaires, the reality is the project will service local fisherman as well as local middle cals boat owners.”

Among other points, the city’s complaint argues that in signing the no-bid agreement with Suntex, the DEP, “failed to follow its standard and required competitive negotiation procedures,” that Suntex actually missed the signing deadline, which should’ve voided the agreement; and that in its rushed process, did not conduct “any studies to determine potential adverse impacts that the proposed marina project could cause to the Park.” The suit asked that the judge immediately stop the process and void any signed agreement or lease.

“This lease was not properly conceived because it doesn’t have in it the considerations that are required for these types of contracts,” said Jeremy Farrell, the corporation counsel for the city of Jersey City.

Park advocates hope to delay any lease agreement until Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s sworn in hoping he will cancel any lease. They condemned this final effort in the Christie administration’s waning days.

“It’s an inside job. The Christie administration, which is sworn to uphold through the DEP and protect the parks, is the one giving it away,” said Greg Remaud, the deputy director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The Governor’s Office, DEP and the Attorney General’s Office had no comment on the litigation. The approval process calls for public hearings with the DEP and the State House Commission.

The day ended with the judge ruling to grant the city’s request for a temporary restraining order. That means the state Department of Environmental Protection cannot enter into an agreement with Suntex until after a court hearing that will take place on Jan. 16.