Despite some tensions boiling, NJ DEP confident in Liberty State Park revitalization


The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) held a Liberty State Park Task Force meeting in the old central railroad terminal yesterday, and despite tensions boiling, the state agency remains confident in their plans for revitalization.

Screenshot via Zoom.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“I regret there is misinformation on this project. This project will not cause flooding. This project is a solution to flooding. We are making those who polluted our land pay for it … Our goal here is to create a Master Plan,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.

Assistant DEP Commissioner John Cecil stated that there is a consensus that they want to restore the historic train shed and make a number of improvements, but not everyone was satisfied with the outcome thus far.

“It is a travesty task force,” Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin declared.

He has been vocal about his displeasure with the 23-member task force, which includes members of the Liberty State Park for All and People’s Park Foundation groups, who have called for privatization of the park for varying degrees.

“There needs to be a lot of open space there. For farmers markets, for fairs for great events and small-scale commercial opportunities,” Pesin explained.

La Tourette interjected that members of the public could make general remarks during the public portion.

“With the governor’s budget forecast … do we have money to do this? Union County Manager Edward Oatman asked.

“There’s no question that the development of each phase would require a continuing legislative and gubernatorial commitment to funding elements of this project. Phase 1 B is not inexpensive. We’re talking upward of $300,000,000. We have funding as proposed in the Governor’s current budget,” La Tourette explained.

He added the governor’s formal budget proposal announced this week included an additional $35 million that is funded by pollution lawsuit settlements through the state.

“Who would be running this?” Jersey City Environmental Commissioner and Friends of Lincoln Park member Luz Guzman asked.

“It wouldn’t be privatized. It would be run by the state park service. There would be a management force contracted,” LaTourette replied.

From there, Cecil brought up the plans for northern part that includes upgraded athletic amenities, such as a track and field.

Jersey City Department of Parks, Recreation, and Youth Development Director wanted a mix of passive and active recreation with concession stands, though she recognized that there’s only so much room to accomodate everyone’s preferences.

Cecil then explained their designs for an amphitheater and the surrounding area that would change the existing park grounds.

Pesin explained The Friends of Liberty State Park support a fantastic band shell in the North Cove Field behind the ferry parking lot. But he declared opposition to a sloping amphitheater with concrete benches in that location, which is needed for free and admission-fee festivals, the start and finish of nonprofit fundraising 5K Runs and Walks, and the popular Sunday lawn concerts.

La Tourette responded that they are creating five miles of trails where future races could occur.

NAACP Jersey City President Charles Mainor was concerned about making the amphitheater handicap accessible, while McLaughlin noted they already hold concerts in the park.

“We have a lot of space to work with. But I understand the concern with density,” La Tourette added.

Task Force Co-Chair Maggie McCann explained the southern part of the park includes the athletic hub of a track and fields and amenities. She said they may also create a playground near there as well.

LaTourette said they could work on the walkway along the waterfront, along with creating a canopy of trees for shade.

“I don’t want our fields used as stormwater management. You need to figure that out,” Liberty State Park for All President Elnardo Webster declared.

“I have. The idea is to lean into the resilience project. A turf field, from a runoff perspective, isn’t much different than asphalt,” noted LaTourette.

Oatman suggested having an hour-long closed session with the task force prior to the next meeting, to which LaTourette agreed.

“This is a lot to digest. Maybe an hour before the next meeting, we can have a closed session with just the board,” Oatman said.

“At what part are we going to see the meat on the bones?” Webster asked.

“We worked a historic, unprecedented state change to allow athletics,” La Tourette exclaimed.

He added they needed their input before a more formal plan is developed and work begins.

“I appreciate you guys changing that policy,” Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker (D-3) said, adding that he’d like to see a football field. He also asked how consultants for the process would be hired.

He said that requests for proposals would be utilized as needed, noting that they have already done so in certain instances.

“The deficit in Jersey City is children do not have the same facilities as their peers,” former Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker, a task force member, argued.

“We’re not going to do that here,” La Tourette said when someone yelled out.

Real estate agent Tonya Keyes wanted a closed session to discuss ideas like a skate park and an ice rink.

“I think it’s very encouraging we’re moving forward. I’m very interested in us getting together without the public … to get a better consensus,” former St. Anthony’s High School coach Bob Hurley, also of the People’s Park Foundation, said.

“We can absolutely have an executive session,” La Tourette reiterated.

Pesin tried to respond, but La Tourette shot him down and told him he had to wait until the public portion to speak.

“When we were fighting for Union Dry Dock, Sam Pesin was side by side with me. I stand side by side with the Friends of Liberty State Park and Sam Pesin. We don’t want to have moneyed interests … trying to drive this process,” Hoboken Mayor and 8th District congressional candidate Ravi Bhalla exclaimed.

“This will not flood the park. It will absorb water. Don’t get fooled by special interest groups.”

Additionally, Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon encouraged the DEP to stick to the their guns.

“It is truly a jewel of New Jersey … Continue on the track you are on,” he said, also noting the need to include active recreation without private commercialization.

“I am a huge advocate for recreation. I really hope that we can have a conversation where regular language is used to explain to people what exactly is going to transpire,” Jersey City Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore said.

“Parks are our true democratic space. Anyone can utilize them,” Jersey City Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said.

She also expressed that the amphitheater wouldn’t be obtrusive since it’s built into a slope.

“If you want to build a stadium, talk to me about the West Side,” she added.

Liberty House owner Jeanne Cretella said she was a bit concerned about the parking issues that could be created.

“It’s challenging whenever there’s something that creates an influx of cars. It makes it near impossible for certain guests to get in. We need traffic parking amenities.”

Hudson County Commissioner Yraida Aponte-Lipski (D-4) called for preserving nature as much as possible, while Toney Borelli, of Bike JC, said that the plan is great just the way it is.

“We want to make sure there are ample opportunities for fishermen to access the waterfront. It should not be privatized,” environmental activist Joe Albanese added.

State Senator Raj Mukherji (D-33) was also present and he came out in support of the DEP’s plan, noting that he liked the measures for flood prevention and active recreation, as well as that he did not believe the park should be designed to make money.

“I am here to oppose building athletic fields on Audrey Zapp Drive, which will create traffic,” stated Liberty Yacht Club Commodore Beth Daugherty.

“Jersey City has 39 public schools. Many of them are not open in the late afternoon and early evening. Forget the stadium. Let’s keep the people’s park, the people’s park,” Jersey City Planning Board Commissioner Steve Lipski declared.

Before the lengthy meeting concluded, former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann said the city donated land for the park to exist. He said he appointed Sam Pesin’s father, Morris Pesin, to commissions to help do so.

“(Former business tycoon) Lee Iacocca wanted to build a Disney World on Ellis Island. That was opposed!” McCann exclaimed.

He also blamed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the pollution and believed they should have to pay to fix it.

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  1. The DEP needs to quickly and be fully transparent as to why the Federal funded Rebuild By Design project to protect Hoboken and Jersey City from another tidal flood like Super Storm Sandy has been halted by Mayor Fulop? Is it protect the profits of a private developer?
    Imagine the PATH tunnels under the Hudson being flooded again and perhaps destroyed and how it would cripple entire economy.

  2. Leave it alone.Well, I’m gonna get all nationalities involved in this.People that go down There have a nice time.Have Barcues every year, so drop that project.A lot of people will be heard.