Officials, Environmental Advocates Fight Liberty State Park Development

By Brenda Flanagan

“In the words of Bruce Springsteen, there will be no retreat, no surrender,” said Sam Pesin, Friends of Liberty State Park.

Vowing to keep Liberty State Park free and green, a coalition of environmental advocates and park boosters announced their game plan to fight the state’s proposals for extensive development. Basically, they’re going to run out the clock.

“Our best asset is that the governor’s tenure is limited two years. And the court systems move very, very slow. And I tell you that any prospective bidder, any prospective vendor who thinks they will bid on a proposal for Liberty State Park without pushback from us, they’re mistaken,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

“We will have a different governor in two years and Liberty State Park will remain a park. A national monument,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

“And what must be non-negotiable are public input, public hearings held here to maximize participation,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.

The opposition’s hardened in response to details unveiled by the DEP in November, showing projects that would transform 38 acres of the park’s developable landscape — like the North Zone’s historic train shed — into revenue-generating ventures, including a hotel with restaurants and conference hall. The Central Zone could host daily public events featuring vendor carts and the South Zone’s waterfront could be developed into a sports and marina complex. Profits could help plug the park’s $2 million operating deficit, but the DEP says, these are just ideas.

“One unfortunate piece of misinformation is that we’ve already come up with the plan. There’s no such plan that exists. We have ideas that were created,” said NJDEP Division of Parks and Forestry Director Mark Texel.

Texel says the agency would eventually hire a park planning team, but first, “At this point the next step would be to sit down with stakeholders, including public meetings, to talk about here are some design concepts for how to make the park a world-class attraction, how to use some parts of the park that aren’t open to public access.”

“We’re going to fight any kind of development that’s going to come here. And the good news is, this administration’s not going to be here much longer,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“This is a precious asset, and we’re going to continue to view it as such, protect it as such and there is no compromise,” Fulop said.

Fulop’s a likely candidate for governor. So is Sweeney. Which led Weinberg to wryly observe, “We have — if I can figure the arithmetic right — a 66 2/3 percent that we have a future governor present.”

The coalition’s determined to fight a war of attrition, to delay any plans to develop the park until someone else — Sweeney, Fulop, who knows — is sitting in the governor’s chair.