Package of Bills Would Start to Spend Down Open Space Bond Issue

Broadly backed bills would develop new parks in urban areas, fund waterfront improvement projects

The state legislature yesterday began moving a package of bills that would draw down for the first time an open space and farmland preservation bond issue approved by voters in 2009.

With broad support, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee released three bills that would use approximately $155 million from the nearly two-year-old bond issue to fund open space acquisition, develop new parks and facilities in urban areas, and buy up flood-prone properties under the state’s Blue Acre program.

The identical bills are expected to be acted on by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee Thursday in an effort to have the package approved and signed into law before legislators adjourn for their summer recess. Most of the funds for the projects came from the $400 million bond issue approved by voters in 2009, although some also came from funds of the Garden State Preservation Trust, the agency that deals with open space acquisitions.

Developing New Parks

One of the bills (A-4052) allocates $84.5 million to county and local governments to preserve open space and develop new parks. Among the local governments financing open space acquisitions include Princeton Township, Haddonfield, Livingston, Manalpan, Montville and Madison Borough, all of which received $450,000 for preserving open spaces.

Also, the bill sets aside money for waterfront development projects in urban areas, according to Kelly Mooij, director of government relations for the New Jersey Audubon Society. For example, Newark is receiving more than $2 million for various riverfront improvement projects along the Passaic River.

Another bill (A-4051) allocates $14.8 million to nonprofit groups to make open space acquisitions. These include the American Littoral Society ($250,000) to acquire land in Cape May, Cumberland and Salem to preserve property along the Delaware Bay.

Other areas where state officials identified a priority in preserving lands were in the New Jersey Highlands and Barnegat Bay

In addition, a third bill (A-4050), would allocate $57 million in funds for state acquisitions ($45 million) for conservation and recreational purposes and another $12 million to acquire flood- or storm-damaged properties.

The bills now head to the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee.