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Liberty State Park “Cleanup” Bill Fails to Correct The Problem

New Meadowlands Regional Commission Should Have No Role in LSP

Park Advocates Negotiate a Terrible Compromise


Yesterday, following an unusual marathon 2 1/2 hour presentation by the hydrogen fuel cell industry, the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee approved a bill (A4196) designed to honor Assembly Speaker Prieto’s pledge to fix alleged mistakes in the Meadowlands bill rammed through the legislature a week before the new year’s holidays (see:

We previously explained the flaws in Prieto’s bill and why it would not solve the problem and still be used to promote development in LSP.

In a nutshell, we think it is obvious – by their own policy documents and public statements printed in the newspapers  – that the Christie DEP has an agenda to commercialize and privatize Liberty State Park and use the park as a revenue generator. We think that agenda fundamentally conflicts with basic principles of public park planning and management.

Our main technical argument with the new Meadowlands legislation is that because parks lease and concession revenues are now Constitutionally dedicated to the Open Space fund – which restricts their use and can only be allocated in the budget appropriations process –  that DEP is using the new Meadowlands Commission to evade this revenue restriction.

Specifically, development projects in the park would be “a project of the commission” (see page 26), not a DEP State park. This provision could be used legally to dodge the revenue dedication.

Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club argued that the same provision – development as “a project of the commission” – is designed to evade the Ogden/Rooney process for leases/conveyances of state lands, which requires public hearings and State House Commission approval.

So we thought our friends at Friends of Liberty State Park fully understood that too, particularly in light of Sam Pesin’s kick ass letter just 1 month ago, see:

So we were shocked and extremely disappointed to hear Sam and Deb Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper testify in support – that’s right support – of Prieto’s flawed bill.

They negotiated and agreed to minor cosmetic amendments that do not address the underlying problems with the bill and will continue to promote commercialization and development of LSP without adequate public review.

With no public discussion with all the groups and people involved in the LSP battle, Baykeeper and Pesin negotiated a terrible back room compromise that seems more like it’s about protecting Prieto and Democratic legislators than LSP.

I don’t blame Sam Pesin or FLSP for this, I think Sam was manipulated by Deb Mans of Baykeeeper into accepting a terrible compromise as the “best deal” they could hope to get.

Their deal must be opposed by all supporters of Liberty State Park.

[This is a winnable battle: parks supporters have a strong principled argument and are well organized. Their efforts already won victories in restoring parks funding in the open space implementation bill, generated huge press coverage and editorial support, and forced Speaker Prieto on the defensive.  Which makes the fact that they cut a bad compromise at this point completely bizarre.]

  • Here are some basic and non-negotiable facts

First of all, Liberty State Park is not located in the Meadowlands, so the Meadowlands Commission should have no jurisdiction there. None.

Second, the Meadowlands Commission has no institutional history, capacity or expertise in park planning or management. So, again, the Meadowlands Commission should have no role. None, zero, zilch, nada.

[update – this comment is over the top and not accurate – Meadowlands has experience – see comment below]

Third, the LSP amendment was quietly requested  by the DEP and stealthed into a severely flawed piece of complex legislation and rammed through the legislature before people and legislators could read or remotely understand what the bill would do.

Fourth, AFTER the bill was approved by the Legislature, the Bergen Record disclosed the fact that DEP had secretly – with no public contracting or planning process – laundered $120,000 to the corporate oriented planning group NJ Future to conduct a planning study of development potential in Liberty State Park.

That’s right, a planning study about development in LSP – done by a private development planning group and with no public participation.

Interestingly, even NJ Future opposed Prieto’s bill yesterday.

We believe that Governor Christie’s “Sustainable Parks Strategy”, which seeks to use State Parks to leverage revenue generation – through commercialization, privatization, and increased user fees – is driving the DEP’s LSP development schemes.

Accordingly, the LSP amendments can only be perceived as in bad faith and the means to implement some kind of covert agenda for the park that would never withstand public scrutiny and must be done covertly.

The only acceptable “cleanup” bill must delete all jurisdiction and role of the Meadowlands Commission in Liberty State Park.

The NY/NJBaykeeper & Pesin compromise must be rejected.

We will work to do that via Assembly floor amendments that strip the LSP from the new law and with Senate sponsors. We urge you to join that effort.

In addition to blocking any Meadowlands Commission role at Liberty State Park, real statewide parks system reforms require  passage of new legislation that would that mandate that any significant DEP parks planning and development projects be subject to a public planning process and comply with some standards to preserve the integrity of the public park as public space, ensure full public access, enhance design and aesthetics, and protect the natural resources of the parks.


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  1. panicum-virgatum
    March 18th, 2015 at 16:43 | #1

    First, let me say that I am a fan of WolfeNotes and thank you for your diligent investigation and reporting. But this comment:

    “Second, the Meadowlands Commission has no institutional history, capacity or expertise in park planning or management. So, again, the Meadowlands Commission should have no role. None, zero, zilch, nada”

    This statement demonstrates that you have never set foot in Richard DeKorte Park (Lyndhurst), River Barge Park (Carlstadt) or Mill Creek Point Park (Secaucus). These parks were developed by NJMC staff landscape architects who have been designing and building parks in the Meadowlands District for more than 25 years. The focus of NJMC park development since 1990 has been the restoration of brownfields and degraded sites for wildlife utilization, habitat restoration and passive recreation. The agency that eventually does control LSP would be wise to employ the talents of NJMC park designers, wetlands scientists and wildlife specialists to improve LSP; however, I doubt they will even be allowed to set foot on the property.

  2. March 19th, 2015 at 13:57 | #2


    PV – you are absolutely right and I humbly stand corrected for the rhetorical excess and ignorance.

    However, do you claim that the law was designed to bring MRC parks planning expertise to bear on Liberty State Park?

  3. March 19th, 2015 at 14:00 | #3


    Swtichgrass – by the way, I began in DEP in 1985 in solid waste – my view of the Meadowlands was as a landfill, not a park.

    Funny how experience warps perception.

  4. panicum-virgatum
    March 20th, 2015 at 10:48 | #4

    No, Bill. I absolutely do not think the law was designed to bring MRC parks planning expertise to bear on LSP. I can’t say what the law was designed for except to disrupt 40-years of solid regulation, planning and site improvement on the part of NJMC. This law was created in haste to accomplish unknown(?) goals.

    Yes, the Meadowlands has come a very long way from those days of unsightly landfills. The NJMC has worked long and hard to regulate dumping, close landfills and remediate degraded sites as much as possible.

    Thank you for your service to DEP and keep up the good work you’re doing here on your blog.

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