Jersey City is seeking to block a Christie administration plan to lease a portion of Liberty State Park to develop a new “millionaire’s marina,’’ a project critics say will irreparably harm the most popular park in New Jersey.
The plans to develop a new marina on the south side of the park moved forward last week when the state Department of Environmental Protection agreed on the terms of a 25-year lease with Suntex Ventures LLC, which currently operates a marina on the northern side of the recreational area.
The proposal has come under fire from park advocates, environmentalists, and city officials since word of the project became public late last year. The DEP is seeking to expand the northern marina and develop a new facility on 45 acres of the park’s southern side as a way of financing $43 million in bulkhead repairs it is obligated to undertake.
Tarnishing the crown jewels
In announcing the lawsuit yesterday at City Hall, Mayor Steven Fulop vowed to fight the marina that he said will do irreparable harm to Jersey City and Liberty State Park, one of the crown jewels of the state.
“If this was a plan everyone was proud of down in Trenton, it would not be rushed through in a lame-duck session in the dark of night,’’ Fulop said at a press conference, surrounded by city officials, park advocates, and environmentalists.
Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park, called the plan an attack on urban folks. “The Suntex plan would obliterate the Southside as a sanctuary in this crowded and concrete city and would ruin the park as a recreational, mental health, and spiritual public resource where people picnic, barbecue, relax, play, exercise, fish, and explore nature,’’ he said.
The Lady in the Harbor
The southern portion of the park affords spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline and is a popular place for barbecues, picnics, walking, and fishing among park patrons.
The lawsuit, filed by Riker Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, argues that the DEP failed to follow standard competitive negotiation procedures in entering into a new lease for the marina. The agency also did not conduct a routine environmental assessment of the project prior to entering into the lease, according to the lawsuit.
According to the proposed lease agreement, Suntex was afforded the right of first refusal for any proposed marina expansion within the park, and a proposed southern marina was always contemplated within the vision of the park. The DEP declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The dispute is not the first time park advocates, city officials, and the department have clashed over proposals to privatize portions of the park, which draws more than 7 million visitors annually and is one of the most popular state parks in the nation.
In 2016, the DEP dropped controversial plans to privatize portions of the park by building an amusement park, indoor sports arena, and hotel. At the time, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin told lawmakers: “We are done with Liberty State Park,’’ laying blame on Fulop, Friends of Liberty State Park, and others.
The latest privatization plan is facing widespread opposition once again. “Using the money from this marina to fix other parts of the park is just an excuse to turn LSP into a private yacht club,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.