In a Sarlo versus Cunningham collision with some late political back and forth, the Senate Budget Committee this afternoon passed Senate Bill No. 3357, otherwise known as the
“Liberty State Park Protection Act,” which would preserve Liberty State Park as a public urban green open space free of inappropriate privatization by establishing certain requirements concerning actions by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) related to Liberty State Park and establishing a Liberty State Park Advisory Committee (committee).
Senators moved bill under the eyes of Liberty Park legend Sam Pesin, and with the stout emphasis of the bill’s sponsor.
Here’s how they voted:
Senator Mike Testa: No
The bill passed by a vote of 8-2-3.
“Liberty State Park is, next to Gettysburg, the most sacred land in the United States,” Pesin, quoting former state Senator Bernie Kenny (D-33), told the committee.
State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) worked to pull together various parties, Pesin among them. But the chair of the committee didn’t want to move the bill out of committee today.
“There’s an opportunity to preserve 1,200 acres of park and take 25-acre portion of it, to clean it up, to cap it, to put to or three holes turned into green space, all preserving access to the water for the public, creating an amazing revenue source,” Sarlo said.
Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) elaborated.
“There is a lot of good stuff in the bill but we have a chane at some public private partnerships,” he said. “Until the bill is changed to make sure we’re not eliminatin a very important opportunity.”
But state Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31) asked her colleagues to stand with her in support of the bill. “This park was designed and put together with an idea that it would be a respite in an area that is very densely populated,” said Cunningham (D-31), the bill’s sponsor along with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37).
“There’s a difference of opinion about how the park should be run,” she acknowledged. “It’s got to be for the people who live near and about this park.”
The bill would prohibit the DEP from considering any proposal to commercialize, develop, or privatize
Liberty State Park, except as provided in the bill. The bill would prohibit any concession, conveyance, or lease within the 235-acre natural restoration area in the interior of Liberty State Park, and at Caven Point Peninsula, a designated wilderness area.
“It is one of the most visited state parks in the United States,” said Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. “Over the years there have been all these attempts to privatize the park. We strongly support this legislation.”
The bill would require the DEP, within three years after the bill is enacted into law, to develop a management plan for Liberty State Park in consultation with the committee. The DEP would be required to present to the committee for review and recommendations: any proposed agreement for a concession, conveyance, or lease with a term of one year or longer; the extension or renewal for a term of one year or longer any concession, conveyance, or lease in effect on the date the bill is enacted into law; and any proposed special event that may have a significant impact on the ability of the public to access and enjoy Liberty State Park.
In addition, the bill directs the DEP to develop and implement, in conjunction with the committee, a comprehensive public participation process to allow public citizens and civic organizations to provide public input on any proposed changes in land use at Liberty State Park or to the management plan developed pursuant the bill, and to also, at least once each year, hold a public forum to receive input from the public concerning plans, improvements, preservation, conservation, and management of the park, in addition to any public hearings that may be required pursuant to law.
Under the bill, the DEP would only approve a concession, conveyance, lease, or other agreement with a private entity to provide small-scale commercial activities that directly enhance the experience of a visitor to Liberty State Park, such as a bicycle or kayak rental concession, food concession, temporary winter skating rink, commercial boat tour operating from an existing boat slip, and use of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal (“CRRNJ Terminal”), and other uses identified in the management plan developed pursuant to the bill.
In addition, whenever the DEP proposes to enter into a concession, lease, or other agreement for a duration of one year or longer, the DEP would be required to present the proposal to the committee for review and recommendations and provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposal, including holding two public hearings at Liberty State Park, with one hearing being held on a weekday evening and one on the weekend, and providing a 30-day public comment period. In addition, the DEP would be required to take these same actions when it intends to convey lands acquired or developed by the State with Green Acres funds, or acquired or developed by the State in any other manner and administered by the department, located within or adjacent to Liberty State Park.