Keeping Liberty State Green and Clean of Inappropriate Privatization

Tom Johnson | March 12, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Legislation to preserve the park as an urban green oasis easily cleared committee, possibly helped along by Treasury looking into selling state assets

Liberty State Park, frequently described as a national treasure, could be spared from new efforts to commercialize it under a bill that easily cleared its first hurdle yesterday, sailing through the Assembly Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee.

The legislation (A-4903), dubbed the Liberty State Park Protection Act, aims to preserve the 1,200-acre park, the most popular in New Jersey, as an urban green oasis, free of inappropriate privatization and the large-scale commercial ventures that had been targeted there over its four decades.

For advocates, passage of the bill has taken on a new urgency with last month’s move by the Department of Treasury to hire a firm to serve as a financial adviser on potential state asset sales, including parks and other recreational facilities.

No teeing off on Liberty

In the past, a private golf course, waterpark, and 100,000-seat stadium for auto racing all have been proposed and defeated at the Hudson River waterfront park with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and Statute of Liberty.

“Hopefully, this will stop the bad projects,’’ said Greg Remaud, CEO of NY/NJ Baykeeper, an advocate in the middle of many of those drawn-out battles. The most recent set-to came last last year when the state Department of Environmental Protection tried to move forward on a 25-year lease for a new marina on the south side of the park.

The bill seeks to preserve open space at the park in perpetuity and protect it from the privatization and other massive commercial developments proposed there in the past. Liberty is visited by more than 5 million people each year.

“At the end of the day, it’s a passive oasis,’’ said Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson), a co-sponsor of the bill, who noted his county has welcomed plenty of development. “We need to keep this passive, open, and free to the pubic.’’

Songbird stopover

Beyond offering a green space in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, Liberty State has emerged as a major migratory stopover for raptors and songbirds, which attract birders all year long to the park, Remaud said. More than 300 bird species have been seen there.

The bill does not rule out small-scale, appropriate privatization plans, although they are subject to public review. The bigger worry among advocates are plans like proposals to build hotels, golf courses, and even an arena at the park.

“Because of its location and its beauty, there have been many attempts to develop the park,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need to make sure we protect it.’’