State Frees Up $67M for Open Space, Recreation Projects

Tom Johnson | November 23, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Money represents first to come from stable source of funding approved by voters in 2014

open space
For the first time in two years, the state is looking to award up to $67.4 million in funding to municipalities, counties, and nonprofit groups to acquire open space and develop recreational projects.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is accepting applications for the first chunk of money to be doled by a new stable source of funding approved by voters back in the fall of 2014 for Green Acres projects.

A dispute between the Christie administration and the Legislature that lasted months derailed the annual disbursement of grants and loans to towns and other groups for park development, land acquisition, and, for the first time, stewardship of protected land.

The DEP will accept applications until February 15, 2017, before submitting its recommendations for awards to the Garden State Preservation Trust for approval. Open space and conservation groups expect a flood of requests.

“Green Acres usually gets twice as many applications for projects as money is available,’’ said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of groups that lobbied for a constitutional amendment to set aside a portion of the corporate business tax to fund such projects.

“We couldn’t be happier that projects stalled because of lack of funds now have the opportunity to move forward, providing countless opportunities to protect water quality and crucial habitat, while providing new recreational opportunities for all New Jerseyans to enjoy,’’ added Ed Potosnak, chairman of Keep It Green.

The Green Acres program, created in 1961, is one of the most popular state programs, helping to protect more than 680,000 acres in New Jersey, according to the DEP. It has helped create nature preserves and wildlife habitats, establish urban waterfront parks and greenways, and build playgrounds and athletic fields.

In addition to the $67.4 million for towns, counties, and nonprofit groups, the DEP also has yet to allocate tens of millions of other dollars for state acquisition projects and Blue Acres, which provides funds to buy up flood-prone properties.

How the money is to be spent in general is spelled out in legislation passed by the Legislature this past summer. A dispute over using a portion of corporate business taxes to fund park operations held up passage of the bill until a compromise was reached at the end of the prior state fiscal year in June.