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Privatizing History

I thought the literal burying of Trenton’s history was outrageous, but now there are plans to privatize historic places statewide? (see A763 passed the Assembly and is now before the Senate)

Maybe Donald Trump might be interested in a new kind of Trump Castle – Trump Taj - How about Trump Trenton Barracks? Trump (Washington) Headquarters?

Is there no public sphere? Nothing not subject to commercial values and corporate control?

If history itself can be leased to private individuals and corporations, what can’t be?

The Warren Reporter for NJ.com reports: 

Warren County Assemblyman John DiMai praises passage of bill to allow lease of state-owned historic sites

HACKETTSTOWN — Historic structures owned by the state could be maintained and improved with help from a bill passed by the New Jersey State Assembly on Feb. 17, said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Warren, Hunterdon).

DiMaio said he sees the action as potentially a great benefit for historic sites throughout the state.

“Many sites purchased by the state for open space preservation contain historic buildings,” DiMaio explained. “When budgets are tight, unfortunately maintenance of these buildings is not always a priority. By leasing out the buildings, we can generate the funds to repair and maintain these structures.”

The bill allows for the lease of historic buildings and structures located on lands administered by the Department of Environmental Protection for recreation and conservation purposes. It provides for the possibility of lease abatements in exchange for approved repairs of the structure, as well as allows for the sub-lease by non-profit organizations.

Numerous state-owned sites have been included in Preservation New Jersey’s “Most Endangered Historic Sites.”

“To be honest, too many state-owned historical structures are sitting empty,” said DiMaio. “This is an opportunity for individuals and groups to reap the benefits of living or working in an historical site, and provides the state with a caretaker for our historical treasures.”

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  1. February 21st, 2011 at 12:49 | #1

    We need to be careful about what we are talking about here: these are not (so far as I know) the State Historic Sites, that is to say, the Historic Sites owned and staffed by the State of New Jersey where collections of artifacts are displayed. These are historic buildings where the DEP—in “land-banking”—practices what amounts to demolition by neglect. Of course, few, if any, non-profit organizations are able to maintain such structures, no less open them to the public. These properties should have been set aside with historic preservation easements when they were acquired and sold to private individuals who would proudly call them home. This is just the latest attempt to shift blame away from the Division of Parks & Forestry’s “legacy” of cultural vandalism. The only thing that is clear (once more, if any one needs convincing) is that historic resources lie outside of the DEP’s mission. What is desperately needed is a good house-cleanng of anyone associated with the outrageous mistreatment of our irreplaceable heritage!

  2. Bill Wolfe
    February 21st, 2011 at 13:04 | #2

    @Kevin Wright

    Kevin – as I’ve said before I am not an expert on this set of ssues, but here’s the statement on the bill – I don’t see the restriction of State Historic Sites that you do. Regardless, my point about inappropriate privatization stands:

    “This bill would establish in statute the authority for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to lease historic buildings and structures located on lands administered by the department for recreation and conservation purposes. The bill directs the DEP to establish application procedures for potential lessees, which may include a demonstration of the financial resources to repair and maintain the historic building or structure being leased, procedures concerning rent abatements, requirements for pre-approval of any maintenance work, and any other rules and regulations necessary to ensure the maintenance of historic buildings or structures located on DEP lands preserved for recreation and conservation purposes.”

  3. Bill Wolfe
    February 21st, 2011 at 16:10 | #3

    Here’s a comment I just received from an annonymous source unable to post it here due to technical difficulties:

    “Bill: Didn’t you previously write how the DEP was negligent in collecting
    rent from those who are already leasing state-owned properties and buildings
    within state parks and other land? So instead of correcting that error, now
    they want to argue they will be increasing state income by leasing still
    more state resources? Now I understand why I’ve seen Assistant Commissioner
    Amy Cradic leaving DEP out the back door with what looks like a lobbyist or
    other political hack on numerous occasions during the last 6 months.
    Obviously someone, and not the NJ residents and taxpayers, stand to gain
    from this obvious commercialization of the state’s assets. This is all so

  4. February 23rd, 2011 at 09:33 | #4

    My wife and I stopped by an 18th-century English style stone house—the only other examples I know of dating to about 1760-65 and found at Waterloo and Newton—which stands near Panther Valley on the Hackettstown road. The sign read “Division of Parks and Forestry.” The house had been stripped of its original window sash and interior finishes—it was actually wired with extension cords and lamps, so it was no overnight operation. I informed the State Historic Preservation Office and they did nothing.

    I’m not surprised. I was at the original negotiations for the release of Lusscroft Farms in Wantage from Rutgers to the State of NJ.Both the DEP’s Division of Parks & Forestry and the State Board of Agriculture contended for the property. The DEP got the State Historic Preservation Office to rule that all of the buildings were eligible for the NJ and National Registers and indicated to the Governor’s Office that if it received jurisdiction over the property, if would maintain those buildings (signing an agreement to that effect). Not too very long afterwards—having gotten their way—a representative of the State Historic Preservation Office was summoned back to prepare a list of buildings for demolition.

    I worked with a highly qualified regional maintenance coordinator to save the 1861 Krill log-house in Stokes State Forest, even if only to stabilize it. I tried for three years to get a park superintendent to just close the attic window to keep out the elements, but never succeeded. The Trenton administrators literally laughed in our faces at all such attempts to save historic properties. I recommend that people visit High Breeze Farm in Wawayanda State Park. After $500,000 was invested in stabilization for this remarkably well preserved State Historic Site, it has deteriorated beyond salvation. What a crime.

    I saw the High Point Monument filled with ice after a $2 million interior restoration, due to carelessness and mismanagement. Oh, and go check out Waterloo. When I worked there in the late 1970s. the state employed the maintenance crew. Tens of millions of dollars in public money were spent there…but who monitored what was going on? While the historic village deteriorates, the great Mediocracy in Trenton spends money on non-historic buildings, cement wigwams and mannikins planted atop a prehistoric and historic cemetery!

    The DEP’s website lists 34 State Historic Sites that are owned and operated by the Division of Parks & Forestry. At one time, I believe 57 of these sites were listed, but only 23 actually staffed and opened to the public. The list includes our Revolutionary War battlefields and associated sites as well as others, including the former charcoal-ironmaking plantations of Wawayanda, Ringwood, Batsto and Allaire. These important heritage destinations need to be placed under qualified management before any more harm comes to them. It is time for caring and qualified administration of NJ’s cultural inheritance and an end to mismanagement by dilettantes and playground recreation managers, who wouldn’t likely even visit a historic site unless they were paid to manage one.

    This bill at least recognizes that we need to end the unconscionable trashing of historic sites and buildings on public land acquired for open space. If we were not prepared to maintain these structures, then we should have set them aside for resale with preservation easements and leave them to private owners who would maintain and cherish them. Most importantly, we need to design and implement a system of accountability for public employees who foster and condone demolition of historic places by neglect.

  5. Bill Wolfe
    February 23rd, 2011 at 09:56 | #5

    @Kevin Wright

    Kevin – thanks for the comments. You’ve got a lot of expertise and experience and important things to say.

    I’m all for accountability, but I oppose transfer of public assets to the private sector in principle.

    I’d be glad to work with you in getting your knowledge out – and work with you on legislative funding and/or DEP management and accountability reforms.

    Would you like to write more? I’d be glad to give you a guest slot here.

    email me in confidencee at bill_wolfe@comast.net

  6. February 23rd, 2011 at 10:39 | #6

    Maybe Natural and Historic Resources should be moved to the Dept. of State. That way, the Lt. Governor, can cut waste! She always has criticism for the way the “chuckleheads” run things. I’d like to see her do better! Funny how we haven’t heard or seen much of her since her return from that vacation!

  1. May 7th, 2015 at 00:00 | #1
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