BY ED POTOSNAK
St. Patrick’s Day is the most fitting day of the year to celebrate Green, but in this instance I’m referring to New Jersey’s open spaces and preserved places.
On Friday, March 17, amid the many parades and parties celebrating Irish heritage, a different kind of Green celebration also will be taking place: the 21st annual New Jersey Land Conservation Rally. Dozens of environmental groups, corporations, educational institutions and funders will be involved.
The Land Rally, as its commonly known, is a gathering of people working on the front lines of preservation and conservation to discuss, collaborate and share best practices in the ongoing efforts to retain New Jersey’s precious natural resources for all to enjoy.
Operating in the most densely populated state, the state with the most Superfund sites, and the first state projected to reach build out – in which all the land is either preserved or built on – is an ongoing challenge.
Nonetheless, there is much to cheer about this year. Money is once again starting to flow to Green Acres, Farmland Preservation, Historic Preservation and Blue Acres after a nearly two-year lapse.
Let me explain: Though voters overwhelmingly approved a long-term dedicated funding source for Open Space in 2014, no money could be used for land acquisition, restoration of historic properties, parks development or buyouts of flood-prone properties without authorization of the Legislature and sign-off of the governor.
It took a coordinated effort to get the executive branch to agree to carry out the will of the voters although the open space ballot question was approved by a whopping 65 percent of voters and it passed in all 21 counties. Thanks to the efforts of members of the Keep it Green coalition, who tirelessly fought to get the implementation language signed into law, the voter-dedicated money is able to support preservation efforts on the ground.
That brings us to the present, and the reason for celebration: The Senate on Monday unanimously approved a $59.5 million voter-approved appropriation based on recommendations from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Green Acres for state land acquisition, recreation and stewardship in state parks and wildlife refuges, and Blue Acres property buyouts.
That same morning, the Senate Environmental Committee approved a $3 million appropriation for historic preservation, which, again was approved voters back in 2014. I’m confident these bills will enjoy similar support when they are considered by the Assembly.
At a time of unfortunate incredible political division nationally, New Jersey’s Green Acres program continues to advance with bipartisan support and sponsorship of legislators and voters alike. I commend Senators Bob Smith (D-17) and Kip Bateman (R-16) along with Assembly members John McKeon (D-27), Tim Eustace (D-38), Ron Dancer (R-12) and Bob Andrzejczak (D-1) without whom these efforts would undoubtedly stall.
New Jersey Keep It Green – a coalition of more than 180 preservation groups – also deserves a shout out for its vigorous pursuit of open space funding and release of the monies after they were approved by voters. Thanks to the unwavering work of the coalition, New Jersey can soon expect to read an announcement of the next round of Green Acres grantees: Approximately $67.4 million will be dispersed to cities, towns and nonprofits local parks development, land acquisition and stewardship. A new park or trail in your neighborhood may just be among the funded projects.
Ed Potosnak is executive director of the NJ League of Conservation Voters and Chair of NJ Keep It Green Coalition