Testimony In Opposition to Liberty State Park Privatization Act (S2807) to the Senate Environment Committee

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Doug O'Malley

State Director, Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center

Testimony In Opposition to S2807 to the Senate Environment Committee

Doug O’Malley, Director, Environment New Jersey

June 16, 2022

I speak to express our grave concerns regarding S2807. We see this legislation as a dangerous attempt to privatize sections of Liberty State Park, lands held in the public trust for open space, recreation, and conservation.

At 4.8 million visitors per year, Liberty State Park has as many visitors as Yellowstone and more than the Grand Canyon, Delaware Water Gap, Acadia and Cape Cod National Seashore. Hudson County is the 6th most densely populated county in the county. Liberty State Park is literally an urban green oasis and there has been extensive NJDEP stakeholder process to expand active recreational opportunities in the park.

In its current form, we are proud to join the Friends of Liberty State Park to strongly oppose this bill. In addition to the specific concerns outlined below, we are concerned at the speed which this legislation is moving when the Liberty State Park Protection Act (A1957/S907) has failed to be enacted into law. Passage of the Liberty State Park Protection Act would assuage many of the concerns we raise here, and if S2807 were to move forward in any form, we strongly urge it is in conjunction with the Liberty State Park Protection Act. This would best protect the Park against privatization and preserve it as a public green space for future generations in an area that lacks significant access to open spaces. 

The future of Liberty State Park as envisioned in this bill contains features that are inconsistent with the original park master plan and with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s own design proposals for the undeveloped portion of the park, which were formed after extensive consultation with and input from the Jersey City community and other stakeholders.  

As a standalone piece of legislation, we and our allied organizations have identified the following severe deficiencies with S2807 in its current form.  

1.     The bill must contain permanent protections for Caven Point Natural Area Migratory Bird Habitat and Nesting Area. This critical area serves as salt marsh and wetlands habitat for migratory bird species, and once gone, it cannot be replaced.

2.     The bill must contain provisions prohibiting large-scale commercialization, keeping all parts of the park as it was meant to be – a resource for residents and visitors alike to enjoy open space and recreation opportunities. Only small-scale commercial activities should be permitted. 

3.     The revenue generation language must be removed from the bill. While Liberty State Park does host many leases and successful events, this is not its primary function. This language sets a terrible precedent for all our state parks. Our state parks are not revenue generating theme parks, and they should not follow the same business model.

4.     There must be robust, comprehensive public participation from all stakeholders in park land use policy discussions. Any task force must conduct a transparent process, including at minimum two public meetings and a thirty-day comment period for land use decisions. 

In addition, the bill needs prescriptive language outlining how the $250 million will be allocated, specifically for habitats, recreation, park staffing, shuttle buses, and for remediation and renovation of the CCRNJ Terminal Sheds. In addition, we would like to have more significant discussion on the makeup of the permanent task force, as its membership will have a significant impact on the future of the Park. 

Specific Language Recommendations:

1.     Liberty State Park’s Caven Point Peninsula will remain an undeveloped Natural Area that continues to serve as Migratory Bird Habitat and Nesting Area and as an outdoor environmental education site protected from development and privatization in perpetuity.

2.     Large-scale privatization and large-scale commercialization would be prohibited in Liberty State Park, while small-scale commercial activities that directly benefit park users as listed in A1957 (the Liberty State Park Protection Act) would continue to be allowed.

3.     The $250 million proposed in this bill will be used exclusively for the creation of free active recreation, such as  ballfields, basketball courts, running track as listed in the NJDEP active recreation surveys for Liberty State Park;  natural area improvements and restoration; park staffing; shuttle buses to transport visitors to and around Liberty State Park , improvements to public access into and within the park along both the north and south entrances to the park, remediation of contaminated areas within the park; and the longstanding backlog of repairs needed at Liberty State Park including the CRRNJ Terminal Sheds and bulkheads along the waterfront.

4.     The existing “task force” proposed as the Advisory Committee for this funding should include additional/revised state and local representation, such as. the Jersey City Parks Coalition, the Urban League of Hudson County, Communications Workers of New Jersey, and statewide conservation organizations.

5.     The language referencing revenue generation should be removed.

6.     Section 7 will state that: 

“There will be robust public participation by local and statewide residents in all park land use discussions by the NJDEP and the task force. The task force must be transparent and accountable to public comments and have evening meetings to maximize public input. Any proposals for land use must require at least two public hearings, one on a weeknight and one on a Saturday and at least a 60- day public comment period.”