Tipped off that the plan is being discussed by state officials without adequate notice to the public, Sam Pesin, president of the nonprofit Friends of Liberty State Park, is hoping to drum up enough opposition to keep Christie from getting the plan approved before he leaves office in mid-January.
Mayor Steven Fulop joined other public officials and environmental activists at a rally near the picnic area on Dec. 2 to highlight the threat and to send a message to Christie to drop the plans.
“Every other year, someone gets the idea that they can develop Liberty State Park,” he said, making reference to 2016 plans for redevelopment, and alluding to previous plans that posed a number of changes. The 2016 plan, never enacted, would have also shifted oversight of the park from the state’s forestry department to the Meadowlands Commission, which could have reduced the public’s influence over what changes are made.
“From our standpoint we’re going to use every tool – whether it be legal force, political force, or governmental force – to make sure that unnecessary development doesn’t happen here,” Fulop said.
Fulop issued a warning to potential developers that the city would continue to pursue legal and political options long after Christie leaves office.
“Right now you are protected by the governor,” Fulop said. “But in a month, he won’t be governor, and we will still be here fighting this.”
Some believe the proposal – which has yet to actually be unveiled to the public – may be in retaliation for activists’ opposition to the much more ambitious plan proposed but stalled in 2016.
Many of the same people who came out to oppose the marina – such as Fulop, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, Baykeeper Greg Remaud and Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan – made up a coalition that successfully forced Christie to abandon the 2016 plan.
But Remaud said in response that Christie diverted $18 million that was earmarked for a project that would open up an additional 250 acres of the park which are currently closed to the public.
Remaud described the plan as discrimination, a social justice issue.
“This plan would close off access to the park for the poor in order to benefit the wealthy,” he said.
Protestors hope to fend off the plan long enough for Phil Murphy to be sworn-in as governor on Jan. 16, after which they hope the plan will be dumped.
Remaud also said that Murphy will likely restore the $18 million that will allow the 250 acres currently off limits to the public to be opened.
The plan would rebuild the south shore
To a backdrop of recorded music that included songs by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, protesters held up signs with slogans such as “Freedom from development,” “No marina” and others.
According to Pesin, the state is proposing to lease the waterfront along the southern side of the park to Suntex Marinas, the Texas-based company that currently operates a marina on the north section of the park.
However, Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper, cautioned people not to blame the marina company but the state officials who would do this without public input.
A statement issued by Suntex said that the proposed project would rehabilitate the deteriorating section of the park, and would include improvements such as a fishing pier, a new boat launch, a boat club and children’s sailing club which would all be available to the public.
Currently the jetties are rotting, and are often submerged during high tide. The boat launch which is near them, has a limited capacity, and often has a backup of boaters trying to launch or bring ashore boats.
The 1979 master plan for the park includes a marina in that section of the park.
If the agreement goes through, the company would assume responsibility for maintaining the bulkhead.
Pesin, however, said the negative impacts of the proposed project would outweigh the benefits. The two parking lots are often full during summer and holidays for those using the picnic area, fishing or sightseeing. He believes these would be overcrowded with cars from people coming to the marina, and that a grassy area nearby would likely also be converted into another parking lot.
Pesin described this portion of the park as “Central Park behind Lady Liberty” and as “a people’s park,” and said this is a section that is used by ordinary people, something that would be encroached upon if the marina plan went through.
Pesin’s father, Morris, is credited with pushing for the development of the unused waterfront area into a park. It is located behind The Statue of Liberty as well as Ellis Island. Near the north end, it also contains the history Central Rail Road terminal, and the Empty Sky, state monument to the victims of 9/11. The park has spectacular views of New York City on the east side. On the western side, the park hosts Liberty Science Center – which has plans to construct a new high tech village on city property bordering the park.
“This is a people’s park and we should keep it for the people,” Pesin said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.