For years, advocates of Liberty State Park have fought back bids to commercialize the most popular park in New Jersey, blocking efforts to build a marina and amusement park, as well as expand a golf course there.
Now, lawmakers are pushing a bill (A-4903/S-3357) that aims to protect the park that more than 5 million people visit each year from inappropriate privatization and commercial development.
Dubbed the Liberty State Park Protection Act, the legislation would preserve open space at the 1,200-acre park in perpetuity and protect it from large-scale privatization and commercial development schemes that have been proposed since it opened in 1976.
“Most parks don’t require this type of extra protection, but it has proved truly necessary at Liberty State Park,’’ said Greg Remaud, CEO of NY/NJ Baykeeper. “The money and politics at play along this section of the ‘Gold Coast’ adorned by views of Lady Liberty, has proven too great for any New Jersey administration to just say no to exclusionary private development in the park.’’
Advocates block marina
Just last year, park advocates had to mobilize to prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from moving forward on a 25-year lease with a company to build a new marina on the south side of the park.
In the past, a private golf course, waterpark, and motocross stadium have all been proposed for the waterfront park with its stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and Statute of Liberty, according to Remaud.
The bill leaves open the possibility of small-scale, park-appropriate privatization plans, which would be subject to review. “There’s a big difference between putting in kayak and boat rentals, more food stops, and a private golf course,’’ Remaud said.
In recent years, past administrations and lawmakers have underfunded maintenance and other work at state parks, creating a huge backlog of projects. Officials, at times, have proposed privatization schemes to develop a funding source to address the backlogs, but they typically have been greeted with widespread opposition.
The legislation would revive a Liberty State Park Advisory Committee, which would have to review and recommend any proposals for a concession or lease with a term of one year or longer. The bill also directs the DEP to develop a management plan, in consultation with the advisory committee.
Under the bill, any concession or lease would be prohibited within the 235-acre natural restoration area in the interior of the park and at Caven Point Peninsula, a popular target for commercial development in the past.
The legislation is sponsored by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Sen. Sandra Bolden-Cunningham, both Democrats from Hudson County.