Future of Liberty State Park worries environmental group, park boosters

Associated Press

Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic-led Legislature made good on a promise this week to change a new law that some worried might pave the way for commercial development in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

But the new law — frequently referred to as a fix — has not convinced everyone that the possibility of building up the park is off the table.

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Here's a closer look at the issue.

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'FAKE FIX'?

Opponents of the new law say that it doesn't completely restrict the recently constituted New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority from greenlighting projects. The new provision requires that project requests go before the state's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner.

That's hardly a fix, says New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, because the department has sought proposals to privatize the park. "This is not a reform bill; it's a sham," Tittel said. Sam Pesin of the Friends of Liberty State Park says the new legislation is an improvement but does not go far enough, and he worries the bill could pave the way for an amphitheater or concert venue.

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'WE CAN DO BETTER'

The Department of Environmental Protection says it is considering options to invest in the park and make it more attractive to potential visitors. DEP spokesman Bob Considine points out department has commissioned the nonprofit New Jersey Future to do a study of possible enhancements at the park but that no decisions have been finalized.

"So we're looking to see how and what we can do better to make it a destination for more people, while maintaining a sensitivity to the spirit and character of the park," he said.

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WHAT'S AT ISSUE?

The debate reaches back to late 2014 when a provision moving quickly through the Legislature was added after back-room discussion. That provision would have permitted the newly created sports authority, which assumed the power of the Meadowlands Commission, to move forward with projects at the park. Environmental groups and supporters of the park, such as the Friends of Liberty State Park, opposed the move and Christie and lawmakers agreed immediately to change the law. The administration says the latest law gives park supporters what they wanted — DEP control over the park. But the groups have since called for the park to be completely removed from the legislation.

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WHAT'S NEXT?

It's unclear. The department is considering some commercial changes at the park, but stresses "nothing is set in stone." Tittel says the New Jersey Sierra Club is considering potential legal action to stop any possible development.