By Brenda Flanagan
“Do not touch the park,” said Ray Edwards.
Edwards often visits Liberty State Park. He’s dismayed to learn the Christie administration’s actively encouraging plans to develop the park — to draw crowds and generate revenues.
“It should be free and accessible to everyone to just come and enjoy the bay, the view, whether it’s winter on a cold day like this, or in the summer with your family,” Edwards said.
“It is the green, free sacred park behind Lady Liberty and Ellis Island,” said Sam Pesin.
That’s one reason park advocates like Pesin demanded changes to a law just signed by Gov. Chris Christie, a law that folded the park into a new Meadowlands Regional Commission with the power to approve development at Liberty State Park.”
The bill to fix that is in, says its sponsor.
“The new language will say the DEP is the one that has the governance of the park and the only thing that the Meadowlands will do is can review plans for them — on their behalf,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
“And that is still going to be a threat, but I’m thankful that the new bill will be taking out the most dangerous language,” Pesin said.
But park advocates and environmentalists remain deeply concerned about linking Liberty State Park to the Meadowlands and they condemn the Christie administration’s Sustainable Parks Initiative.
“They definitely want to see the park as a revenue-generating cash cow and that is wrong,” said Pesin.
“The public needs to know what’s going on here. How many Chris Christie consultants does it take to walk a developer around Liberty State Park? So far, it’s been three,” said NY/ NJ Baykeeper Deputy Executive Director Greg Remaud.
“We’re looking at every inch of the park,” DEP Spokesman Larry Ragonese says. “What amenities can we add? What services and programs, because it’s the perfect site for events. At the moment, it’s just where people go to get on the ferry. The potential to improve recreational possibilities are enormous. Improve the park and bring in more revenues. That’s the goal.”
And that’s why the park’s in the new commission.
“The DEP wanted this because they wanted to be able to have this commission be able to review plans,” said Prieto.
And DEP’s already got proposals, according to their paid consultant NJ Future, which brought in Dan Biederman — the same developer who renovated Military Park in Newark.
“You get a win-win out of these kinds of efforts, generating revenue,” says NJ Future’s Peter Kasabach. “And the parks are much better maintained. People enjoy them more.”
He says DEP has Biederman’s proposals. “It’s in their [DEP] hands. We suggested and encouraged them to share with the public as soon as possible,” he said.
“If they would just once in a while come out of a back room and tell people what they want to do, why they want to do it, how they’re going to fund it, a lot of this wouldn’t need to happen,” said Remaud.
Advocacy groups say the war of attrition shall now begin. And that they will fight any development they feel violates what they call this park’s noble purpose.