Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed the Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act into law today after it cleared the legislature, despite opposition from environmental groups.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Murphy signed the bill, along with about three dozen others, after it cleared the legislature yesterday: in the Senate by a tally of 36-1 and in the Assembly by a 56-20(1) vote.
The governor did not offer any details on why he supported the legislation, which allows a 23-member task force to determine how to spend $50 million from the New Jersey Department of Protection (NJ DEP) on active recreation and other park improvements – as well as potential commercialization.
“Gov. Murphy today signed the LSP a sell out of Liberty State Park and what it stands for. He is siding with a billionaire over the millions of people that enjoy and love the park,” said environmental activist Jeff Tittel, a former director of the NJ Sierra Club.
“The governor choses privatization over protection and special interests over the public trust. What governor did was wrong but the battle to protect the park continues. We have fought to protect the park for 40 years and the people will fight on as long we have to. This park belongs to all: not Paul, not the governor, but to the people.”
State Senator Brian Stack (D-33), the prime sponsor of the bill and also the Union City mayor, said on Tuesday that he would put up a separate piece of legislation to protect Caven Point – the area of the park that was at one point coveted by Liberty National Golf Course owner Paul Fireman to expand his operation.
With the state’s $50.6 billion approved, the legislative session has ended and it remains up in the air when the new bill would be introduced in Trenton.
The inclusion act initially had $250 million and a 17-member task force attached to it, but those figures were significantly decreased and increased, respectively, before the legislative vote.
The expanded task force will now include two appointments from Murphy, two from Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19), and two from Senate President Nick Scutari (D-22).
A group with ties to Fireman had been pushing for a 5,000-seat stadium and 7,000-seat concert venue, to the dismay of green groups such as the Friends of Liberty State Park, but the bill does not explicitly approve them and those decisions are up to the task force.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), one of the original sponsors of the Liberty State Park Protection Act, voted against the bill in a rare break in the Hudson County delegation.
The other sponsors were state Senators Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Nick Sacco (D-32), as well as Assembly members Angela McKnight, Will Sampson (both D-31), and Annette Chaparro (D-33).