A new bill would appropriate $250 million from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to the Liberty State Park Design Task Force, “to improve conservation and recreational opportunities” in the park.
“The Legislature hereby finds and declares that Liberty State Park requires critical investments to accommodate short-term and long-term action items that will improve conservation and recreational opportunities within the park and provide for the continued maintenance of the park,” Bill S2807, sponsored by state Senator Brian Stack (D-33), says.
“And such investment is in the best interest of the citizens of this State and that the provision of recreational programs to all segments of the public enhances the public health, prosperity, and general welfare, and is a proper responsibility of the State.”
The 17-member task force was first announced by NJ DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette back in September and includes four residents selected by the task force co-chairs and approved by LaTourette.
Additionally, 13 others will have the ability to appoint a designee in their place.
The governing body will be a volunteer job, though “may be reimbursed for necessary expenses,” according to the bill.
Stack was a sponsor of the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which would have prevented any and all corporate development, but died in lame duck session last year for the second time in a row.
Also the Union City mayor, Stack could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday, but sources familiar with the bill said that state Senators Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Nick Sacco (D-32), also the North Bergen mayor, would sponsor the legislation as well.
While there is not currently a complimentary bill in the lower house, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight and Assemblyman William Sampson (both D-31) are expected to be sponsors, along with Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33).
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), the original sponsor of the LSP Protection Act and the chair of the judiciary committee, indicated that he would have to agree to disagree with his colleagues on this one.
“I have the utmost respect and fondness for my colleagues in the Hudson delegation, and I applaud the proposed quarter-billion dollar infusion of funds for the DEP’s plans for active recreation features and, hopefully, other improvements for the community’s free enjoyment,” he said in a statement.
“While respecting their good intentions, I suffer from paranoia informed by decades of struggles by the community against attempts to privatize and commercialize this open space treasure or otherwise wrest control of park planning from the public. As such, I cannot support any other bill unless it is advanced in concert with, or merged with, the Liberty State Park Protection Act and includes sufficient safeguards against privatization and certain changes to the task force composition to ensure transparency and comprehensive public participation in the recommendations to DEP.”
Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin also called for the legislature to merge the two bills and accused Liberty National Golf Course CEO Paul Fireman, who briefly tried to expand the course into the Caven Point area of LSP in 2020, of putting his thumb on the scale.
“The $250 million in the Fireman bill threatens LSP’s future by its total failure to include protections against large scale privatization or include robust public participation … The Fireman bill, most likely written by Fireman’s lobbyist, obscenely leaves LSP as vulnerable as ever to more privatization assaults,” he said in his own statement.
“The bill totally ignores the overwhelming 46 years of the clear and strong voice of the People against large scale privatization and commercialization of the park … Their use of ‘revenue generation’ is their code word for LSP privatization. There is also a phrase calling LSP an ‘economic resource.’ LSP is a park and not an economic development zone.”
He continued that the LSP Protection Act allows commercial activities such as ice skating, food vendors, along with bike and kayak rentals, further stating that 111 groups and 32 people have signed a petition in favor of this bill.
The 13 task force members that could also appoint a designee are as follows:
1. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop
2. Jersey City Department of Recreation and Youth Development Lucinda McLaughlin
3. Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker (D-3)
4. Hudson County Division of Parks Chief Mike Ascolese
5. Jersey City Acting Superintendent of Schools Norma Fernandez
6. New Jersey NAACP President Richard T. Smith
7. The Jersey City NAACP president *position currently vacant
8. Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin
9. Liberty State Park for All Executive Director Arnold Stovell
10. Liberty State Park Superintendent Robert Rodriguez
11. NJ DEP Office of Natural Resource Restoration Bureau Chief *no one listed
12. NJ DEP Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity
13. NJ DEP Director of Parks and Forestry