In the wake of a controversial law to redevelop Liberty State Park, state legislators in Trenton took the first steps to introduce a bill to protect the park’s Caven Point, a migratory bird habitat that has been caught in the crosshairs for potential privatization.
On Monday, the state Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to advance the bill, sponsored by Hudson County state Senators Brian Stack and Sandra Cunningham, that would designate and permanently preserve the area as a natural habitat.
“Liberty State Park is a landmark area that provides a beautiful view of many historical sites including the Statue of Liberty,” said Stack in a statement. “This bill underscores our commitment to preserving the ecological integrity of the entire park. Nationally recognized as the Garden State, we must continue to protect the natural beauty of our state.”
The bill’s introduction came after a new law was fast-tracked and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in June to redevelop Liberty State Park with $50 million in the bank for it, but came under fire from environmental activists for potentially opening the park to privatization.
The law was later revealed to have been backed by lobbyists tied to Paul Fireman, the billionaire and former Reebok CEO who owns the nearby Liberty National Golf Course, and has aimed his sights on Caven Point to expand the golf course.
Other groups tied to Fireman had also promoted the law in its bill phase, as well as their own development plans for the park that activists have pushed back against.
After a number of advocates had asked legislators for Caven Point to be protected in the original law (which ultimately didn’t happen), Stack had announced shortly afterwards that he would introduce the bill to protect Caven Point.
Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park and a long-time park activist, thanked the committee for passing the new Caven Point bill.
“This is a major step forward toward the monumental milestone of protecting the priceless Caven Point Natural Area against privatization,” he said in a statement. “I urge the Assembly leadership and sponsors to follow the Senate’s lead and move the LSP Caven Point protection bill forward to a committee passage and for a floor vote.”
The bill now goes to a full vote before the state Senate, and must also be passed by the Assembly before heading to Murphy’s desk for his signature.