The new Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will spend tens of millions of dollars to rehabilitate and ecologically restore 234 acres of Liberty State Park, according to an announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy and DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe.
The land been closed off to the public by a chain-link fence due to contamination from low levels of metals and hydrocarbons left over from when the site was used to deposit soil in the late 1800s.
The state will use funds recovered in lawsuits and settlements for natural resource damages to rehabilitate the land for public access.
“Liberty State Park is a cherished cornerstone of our state that improves the quality of life for New Jerseyans and offers great services and experiences,” Murphy said. “Today’s investment will allow us to not only rebuild, but enhance the site while preserving the environment.”
Said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop: “Liberty State Park is one of our most protected treasures here in Jersey City, and it’s a welcomed initiative and well worth celebrating when the State promises actions like this.”
Restoring a natural resource
The proposed restoration will increase the park’s accessible space by 40 percent.
The contaminated soil will be excavated and capped with clean soil, which will be planted with trees, grass, and other vegetation.
The plan aims to restore several habitats for a variety of species and includes 72 acres of fresh and saltwater wetlands.
The proposed design includes seven miles of trails with wildlife, hills and knolls with views of the Jersey City and Manhattan skylines, more than 300 new parking spaces, and educational, and passive recreational opportunities.
The restored land will provide better access to the park, improve water and air quality, reduce runoff, and help mitigate climate change.
Starting this month, the DEP will work with elected officials, community leaders, and the public on major design elements.
The DEP will host a public meeting in late September and make presentation materials available at https://nj.gov/dep/nrr/.
“We look forward to the community’s feedback on the proposed design, and to a productive discussion about how we can continue to enhance park amenities for the benefit of neighboring communities and millions of visitors,” Commissioner McCabe said.
Stakeholders include the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Friends of Liberty State Park.
“We know that improved access to natural landscapes are priorities for our communities, but there are often other community priorities that we can address like reducing flooding and brownfield revitalization, making this conversation critical to the success of the design,” said DEP’s Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice & Equity Olivia Glenn.
Gov. Murphy and the DEP are pursuing recreational and public use enhancements.
This year, members of the Jersey City Council and the community voiced a need for more recreational uses in Liberty State Park.
Plans are underway to enhance athletic facilities and improve food services, according to the DEP.
“I welcome today’s announcement about reaching a new milestone for the Liberty State Park interior restoration project, which will ultimately benefit Jersey City’s children,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham. “… This will draw visitors from Jersey City, New Jersey, and around the world”
“Today’s announcement will help future generations better enjoy this rare open space jewel, in a densely populated urban county and one of only two places in the world from which Ellis Island and Lady Liberty can be accessed,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.
Protect the park
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the legislature needs to adopt the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which aims to protect the park from privatization.
“Restoring the interior won’t serve the public well if it ends up being part of a golf course, water park, or something else,” he said.
The bill would require the DEP to develop a management plan for the park in consultation with a nine-member committee composed of environmental advocacy groups, members of the DEP, and governor appointees.
“This is a park that represents both The Statue of Liberty and the gateway to our country,” Tittel said. “This is one of the most visited state parks in the country, and it needs permanent protection.”
The Friends of Liberty State Park will host a rally on Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. on the south lawn of the large Flag Plaza to urge legislators to adopt the Liberty State Park Protection Act.