Liberty State Park Task Force meeting sees fight over active recreation on center stage


The Liberty State Park Task Force, which is overseen by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP), saw the ongoing fight over active recreation on center stage at last night’s meeting as both sides pushed their point of view hard.

Screenshot via Zoom.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

NJ DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the meeting would focus on the southern part of LSP, which is a later stage in development than the northern section, which was discussed at last month’s meeting.

Consultant Project Manager Amelia Casey explained they received a lot of feedback against commercialization and in favor of natural preservation before Landscape Architect David Ostrich showed plans for active recreation in the city.

“There’s been a lot of discussions around the city about what’s lacking or incomplete. We want to make sure we hear that feedback. We need to define what those holes are,” LaTourette stated.

“Much of the area isn’t usable for much of the year. They’re designated for specific sports. That entire area is not used,” Meera Jaffrey, of the Jersey City Reservoir Alliance and the NJ Sierra Club, said.

She said soccer and cricket are becoming popular in this area, but the supply is not meeting the demand in this instance.

Jersey City Department of Parks, Recreation, and Youth Development Director Lucinda McLaughlin said a third of their fields are for soccer while they support baseball, cricket, and other sports.

“Our baseball, softball, and little league fields … are only used for baseball and softball unless we’re trying to find more practice space,” she noted, adding that cricket is played on a grass softball field and Jersey City does not have a field designated for that sport yet.

Former Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker asked how many athletic facilities have been built in the last 20 years as the population in the city has grown.

“I can’t tell you the number of times we had to turn down events because we didn’t have the facilities. A city this size should have lacrosse fields and others. We’ve had to turn down state tournaments,” he declared.

Walker added their facilities are inadequate for school sports and teams sometimes lose home advantage for that reason.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he declared.

Walker also said that LSP fields would be ample for exclusively used soccer and lacrosse fields, along with space for some for pickleball and other sports, used at different times.

“This one space will not be all to solve for all the open space needs in one of the most densely populated counties,” LaTourette noted.

He continued that the NJDEP could help the city and the school system buy properties that could be converted into small parks and fields.

The NJ DEP then presented three options and requested feedback.

“It seems we’re putting more passive activities in the third segment,” former St. Anthony’s High School Basketball Coach Bob Hurley, also of the People’s Park Foundation, said.

“We need volleyball courts. We need pickleball courts. But they could be in a separate place. The third thing is just throwing so many things in one area.”

He also expressed concern about fields being a safe distance away from each other to avoid liability issues. Hurley preferred the first option and urged expediency to benefit the youth sooner.

“I’m growing weary of the plans, and I look forward to the implementation,” he complained.

LaTourette noted the North Side plan will be completed sooner in the next year, with McLaughlin adding that she would like to see a fourth option, pointing out that she liked the idea of active fields for older children closer to a playground for little kids.

“We have to remember the parking,” Jersey City NAACP President Charles Mainor, a former state assemblyman, said.

“I hear that very much. We try to structure the spaces with use in mind. I wouldn’t us to take away loads of space to create surface parking,” La Tourette said.

Franklin Walker liked the second plan, reiterating Hurley’s point that there should be consideration for separating the courts from the fields.

“Option 2 is probably the best one. We should definitely incorporate some special needs in the park. I’m not hearing anything on that,” Hudson County Commissioner D-3 Jerry Walker, also of the People’s Park Foundation, said.

“This is a useful conversation. We’ll need shuttle buses. There would need to be staff belonging to unions to do maintenance to these fields. Basketball could go on the north field,” Friends of LSP President Sam Pesin said.

“I do have to mention … the elephant in the room. That Bob Hurley, Jerry Walker, and others who are funded by [Liberty National Golf Course CEO] Paul Fireman are pushing for a sports and entertainment complex in Liberty Park … along with their flooding lies,” he declared.

LaTourette indicated that no one would be denied the right to speak during public comment, reminding the task board that the common goal is to improve the park.

“I want to address Sam. We are here as a board to hear constructive criticism. Not to talk about people’s personal beliefs and politicize this. The commissioner would like to hear the board’s input,” Union County Manager Ed Oatman angrily exclaimed.

During the public comment period, Assemblyman John Allen (D-32) testified in favor of nature preservation, indicating he wants “to stop any … private commercialization of the people’s property. I absolutely support the NJ DEP’s plan.”

He liked their plans for many trails, fields, and the train terminal redevelopment. Allen also thanked Gov. Phil Murphy (D) for backing LaTourette’s vision.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, also a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 8th District, supported their plan as well.

“What I’d like to address today is purposefully misleading misinformation in a campaign by special interest groups … What we cannot and must not accept in any way, shape or form are grossly misleading and factually inaccurate text messages … regarding claims that this park will be flooded by the DEP’s designs,” he exclaimed.

“This is the type of text message you would get in Russia! Not New Jersey! It should be stopped immediately!”

LaTourette noted he rarely comments during public comment period, but briefly interjected after someone again mentioned the park flooding.

“What you have to say matters: I promise you no one will flood this park. Whoever told you that is telling you a lie,” he said.

“I didn’t hear nothing about public safety. There are flooding issues,” Jersey City Pastor Mario Moody insisted.

A staffer for Assemblywoman Jessica Ramirez (D-32) said she supports the NJDEP plan and initiatives to protect LSP from commercialization and privatization, while Steve Krinsky said that those pushing the false information about the DEP park flooding had ulterior motives.

“All we want is for the recreation to be built now. We don’t want to feel dismissed. We’re bringing water into a park that’s already by water. It just doesn’t sound right,” Ferris High School Head Baseball Coach Josh Beteta stated.

“We have been deluged with misinformation. It’s an insult to our intelligence. This park … is actually going to help situations with flooding. There are special interests at work that just don’t want to quit,” Mario Verdibello declared.

“It’s outrageous that Hurley and the front group supported by Fireman left before the public spoke,” Pesin later shouted.

LaTourette concluded by stating they’re soliciting feedback on the three designs, therefore there will be an open house on May 11th, while the next task force meeting is May 21st.

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  1. I feel as a life long resident of jersey city , with 1500 newly registered voters . In my phone . We want an ear . We want recreation within the city limits long before we talk about LSP.
    Remember Teen post CYO. And let’s not talk boys club , most of our children can’t afford it. So our elected officials, we holding yoj accountable.

  2. LSP is NJ’s most visited State Park. Those folks aren’t driving here to play football or cricket. They’re visiting to enjoy the natural beauty and peaceful vibe. If you want cheering crowds and screaming players…”We have sports at home.”