ASSEMBLY, No. 4903

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

218th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JANUARY 17, 2019

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  RAJ MUKHERJI

District 33 (Hudson)

Assemblywoman  ANGELA V. MCKNIGHT

District 31 (Hudson)

Assemblyman  NICHOLAS CHIARAVALLOTI

District 31 (Hudson)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman Chaparro, Assemblyman Johnson, Assemblywomen Speight, Lopez, Assemblyman Mejia, Assemblywomen Vainieri Huttle, Murphy, Assemblymen Conaway and Holley

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     The “Liberty State Park Protection Act”; establishes Liberty State Park Advisory Committee and requirements concerning DEP actions related to Liberty State Park.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning Liberty State Park, supplementing Title 13 of the Revised Statutes, and amending P.L.1983, c.324 and P.L.2015, c.19.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.  (New section) Sections 1 through 7 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall be known and may be cited as the “Liberty State Park Protection Act.”

 

     2.  (New section)  The Legislature finds and declares that:  

     a.  Liberty State Park, located in Jersey City, is a priceless New Jersey and American treasure and an urban oasis in the middle of densely populated metropolitan northern New Jersey;

     b. With internationally-recognized landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, and the Manhattan skyline as a spectacular backdrop, Liberty State Park is one of the nation’s most sacred and inspiring parks;

     c.  Encompassing over 1,200 acres, approximately 600 acres of land and 600 acres of water, of which all but the interior’s 235 acre natural restoration area are open to the public, the park contains significant natural, historic, recreational, scenic, and cultural resources;

     d.  The park, a major historic resource with its transportation and immigration history, including the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal or “CRRNJ Terminal,” is the third landmark of America's Gateway “Historic Trilogy” along with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island, and also is home to the Black Tom Island 1916 explosion historic site;

     e.  The park is also a major natural resource as a sanctuary for over 300 bird species including migratory species that use the park as a stopover while on the Atlantic Flyway, and countless other wildlife species;

     f.  More than five million people from around New Jersey, our nation, and the world visit the park each year to take in the dramatic and meaningful views and enjoy the peacefulness and passive recreational opportunities of green open space, the beauty of nature and wildlife habitats, family picnic areas, and fishing in the midst of the most urbanized area on the East Coast;

     g.  Unfortunately, this unique and scarce urban green open space has been the target of repeated privatization and commercialization proposals since the park opened, and the subject of a number of development proposals in recent years, including the Department of Environmental Protection issuing requests for proposals to privatize or commercialize portions of the park, which, if approved, would have seriously jeopardized this beloved public resource and severely harmed the public’s ability to enjoy free and full public access to and enjoyment of the park;

     h.  From the time of its opening on June 14, 1976, Liberty State Park has had sustained overwhelming public support for a “free and green” open space park, and overwhelming opposition to privatization and commercialization proposals, as expressed in public hearings, countless public comments, petitions, and in a series of coalitions of local, regional, and Statewide groups to protect Liberty State Park as a “People’s Park” behind Lady Liberty; and 

     i.  It is fitting, proper, and necessary to recognize and respect this history of overwhelming public opposition and to take action to protect Liberty State Park from any inappropriate development proposals in the future and to preserve Liberty State Park for future generations.

 

     3.  (New section) As used in sections 1 through 7 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill):

     “Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

     “Committee” means the “Liberty State Park Advisory Committee” established pursuant to section 6 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

     “Department” means the Department of Environmental Protection.

 

     4.  (New section) The Department of Environmental Protection shall:

     a.  not consider any proposal to commercialize, develop, or privatize Liberty State Park, except as provided in accordance with the provisions of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill);

     b.  prohibit any concession, conveyance, or lease within the 235-acre natural restoration area in the interior of Liberty State Park, and at Caven Point Peninsula, the estuarine ecosystem for plants and animals, critical bird breeding habitat, and urban environmental education resource;

     c.  within three years after the date of enactment of this act, develop a management plan for Liberty State Park in consultation with the committee;

     d.  present to the committee for review and recommendations: 

     (1) any proposed agreement for a concession, conveyance, or lease with a term of one year or longer;

     (2) the extension or renewal for a term of one year or longer of any concession, conveyance, or lease in effect on the date of enactment of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and

     (3) any proposed special event that may have a significant impact on ability of the public to access and enjoy Liberty State Park; and

     e.  develop and implement, in conjunction with the committee, a comprehensive public participation process to allow public citizens and civic organizations to provide public input on any proposed changes in land use at Liberty State Park or to the management plan developed pursuant to subsection c. of this section;

     f.  at least once each year, hold a public forum to receive input from the public concerning plans, plans, improvements, preservation, conservation, and management of Liberty State Park, in addition to any public hearings that may be required pursuant to law; and

     g.  post in a prominent location on the department’s website: 

     (1) any proposed actions by the department that would impact Liberty State Park;

     (2) the minutes of the committee pursuant to subsection k. of section 6 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and

     (3) copies of any reports received by the commissioner pursuant to subsection b. of section 7 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     5.  (New section) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, or rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto to the contrary:

     a. the Department of Environmental Protection shall only approve a concession, conveyance, lease, or other agreement with a private entity to provide small-scale commercial activities that directly enhance the ability of a visitor to enjoy the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources of Liberty State Park, such as a bicycle or kayak rental concession, food concession, temporary winter skating rink, commercial boat tour operating from an existing boat slip, use of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, and uses identified in the management plan developed pursuant to section 4 of this act;

     b.  whenever the department proposes to enter into a concession, lease, or other agreement for a duration of one year or longer, the department shall:

     (1) present the proposal to the committee for review and recommendations; and

     (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposal, including holding two public hearings at Liberty State Park, with one hearing being held on a weekday evening and one on the weekend, and providing a 30-day comment period;

     c.  whenever the department intends to convey, pursuant to the provisions of P.L.1993, c.38 (C.13:1D-51 et seq.), lands acquired or developed by the State with Green Acres funds, or acquired or developed by the State in any other manner and administered by the department, located within or adjacent to Liberty State Park, the department shall:

     (1) present the proposal to the committee for review and recommendations; and

     (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposal, including holding two public hearings at Liberty State Park, with one hearing being held on a weekday evening and one on the weekend, and providing a 30-day comment period. 

 

     6.  (New section) a.  There is established a Liberty State Park Advisory Committee in the Department of Environmental Protection, to assist the department with conserving, preserving, protecting, and improving Liberty State Park.  In carrying out its responsibilities, the committee shall give due consideration to the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources and the local, State, and national significance of Liberty State Park.

     b.  The committee shall consist of nine members, as follows:

     (1) the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, or the commissioner's designee, who shall serve as an ex officio, non-voting member;

     (2) the Superintendent of Liberty State Park, or the superintendent’s designee, who shall serve as an ex officio, non-voting member;

     (3) the president of the Friends of Liberty State Park, or the president’s designee;

     (4) the NY/NJ Baykeeper Chief Executive Officer, or the officer’s designee;

     (5) the president of the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy, or the president’s designee; and

     (6) the president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition, or the president’s designee;

     (7) the chair of the Jersey City Environmental Commission, or the chair’s designee; and

     (8) two members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate as follows: 

     (a) one member from the State’s academic community with expertise, knowledge, or experience in history, landscape architecture, park management, environmental protection, or ecology; and

     (b) one member from a Statewide environmental organization with expertise, knowledge, or experience in ecology, environmental protection, land management, or natural resources protection.

     The public members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate shall be appointed for three-year terms, except that of those first appointed, one shall be appointed for a term of two years, and one for a term of three years.

     c.  Any vacancy in the membership shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment.

     d.  The committee shall organize as soon as possible after the appointment of its members and shall annually elect a chairperson and a vice-chairperson from among its members, and a secretary who need not be a member of the committee. 

     e.  The committee shall meet at the call of the chairperson or the commissioner or when requested by any four members of the committee.

     f.  A majority of the voting members of the committee shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of committee business.

     g.  The department shall provide primary staff support to the committee.

     h.  The committee shall be entitled to the assistance and service of the employees of any State, county or municipal department, board, bureau, commission, authority, or agency as it may require and as may be available to it for its purposes, and to employ stenographic and clerical assistance and to incur traveling or other miscellaneous expenses as may be necessary in order to perform its duties, within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to it for its purposes. 

     i. The members of the committee shall serve without compensation, but may be reimbursed for necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties, within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the committee for its purposes.

     j. The committee shall be subject to the provisions of the “Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act,” P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.).

     k.  A true copy of the minutes of every meeting of the committee shall be prepared and made available to the public.  The minutes shall also be made available on the department's website.

     l.  The committee shall call upon the National Park Service and request the participation of a representative from that agency to serve on the committee, as a non-voting member, to provide information and guidance on park management issues and the availability of federal funds, including means to partner with the federal government to enhance the ability of the public to experience the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources of Liberty State Park, including access to the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island.

 

     7.  (New section) a.  The Liberty State Park Advisory Committee shall: 

     (1) review any matter relating to the improvement, protection, and restoration of Liberty State Park;

     (2) assist the department in developing the Liberty State Park management plan required pursuant to subsection c. of section 4 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and advise the department on the ecological restoration of the 235-acre interior portion of Liberty State Park and means to increase public access and public enjoyment of the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources of the park;

     (3) review any proposed agreement for a concession, conveyance, lease, or other agreement for a duration of one year or longer at Liberty State Park;

     (4) request from the commissioner any information concerning Liberty State Park as it may deem necessary;

     (5) study any policies, plans, rules, and regulations adopted by the department that may impact Liberty State Park; and

     (6) submit to the commissioner any recommendations the committee deems necessary to improve, protect, and restore Liberty State Park.

     b.  The committee shall present a report of its activities, findings, and recommendations to the commissioner within one year after its organizational meeting, and annually thereafter.  The committee shall also submit copies of its reports to the Governor and, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), to the Legislature.

 

     8.  Section 6 of P.L.1983, c. 324 (C.13:1L-6) is amended to read as follows:

     6.  a.  Notwithstanding any other law, rule , or regulation to the contrary, the department shall have the authority to grant such rights or privileges to individuals or corporations for the construction, operation , and maintenance for private profit of any facility, utility , or device upon the State parks and forests, lands , and waters as the department shall find necessary and proper for the use and enjoyment of the lands by the public.  Such rights and privileges shall include, but not be limited to, concessions, franchises, licenses, permits , and other rights and privileges deemed by the department to be appropriate in the utilization of the lands for the public benefit.  The grant or award of such rights or privileges shall be made in the name of the State of New Jersey and executed by the department, at such price and upon such terms and conditions as shall be fixed by the department.

     b.  The department shall have the authority to acquire rights and privileges in lands owned by individuals or corporations where the department deems it necessary or useful, for the proper implementation of the provisions of [this amendatory and supplementary act] P.L.1983, c. 324 (C.13:1L-1 et seq.) , that an interest in such lands be acquired.  Such rights and privileges shall include, but not be limited to, leases, licenses, concessions, franchises , and permits.  Any rights or privileges acquired hereunder and the considerations therefor shall be subject to terms and conditions fixed by the department.

     c.  Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection a. of this section to the contrary, commencing on the date of enactment of P.L.    , c.    (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the department shall not grant any rights or privileges to an individual or corporation for the construction, operation, and maintenance for private profit of any facility, utility, or device at Liberty State Park except as may be allowed pursuant to the provisions of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

(cf:  P.L.1983, c.324, s.6)

 

     9.  Section 19 of P.L.2015, c.19 (C.5:10A-19) is amended to read as follows:

     19.  In addition to any powers established pursuant to section 5 of P.L.1971, c.137 (C.5:10-5), and the powers established pursuant to section 7 of P.L.2015, c.19 (C.5:10A-7), the commission shall endeavor to safeguard the environmental resources of the district and provide quality public recreation and educational opportunities.  The commission may:

     a.     Target and prioritize potential preservation sites for acquisition, deed restriction, and conservation easements, including large tracts of wetlands sites;

     b.    Preserve wetlands to protect wildlife, water quality, and flood storage value;

     c.     Review preservation sites for potential wetland enhancement and mitigation;

     d.    Improve connections among the district's trails and habitats, reducing fragmentation;

     e.     Identify missing links in the existing trail system, as well as key locations for connecting to wildlife viewing stations, environmental venues, boat launches, docks, and other active and passive recreational attractions;

     f.     Increase both active and passive recreational uses;

     g.    Eliminate or control the presence of other invasive plant and animal species;

     h.    Maintain and improve targeted habitats relative to breeding, wintering, feeding, and other wildlife activities;

     i.     Maintain the value of the Hackensack meadowlands as an urban sanctuary for birds using the Atlantic Flyway;

     j.     Seek available funding for land acquisition, protection, and management of wildlife preserves;

     k.    Maintain and restore the ecology of the waterways, including the estuary, shorelines, and nursery habitat for fish;

     l.     Continue monitoring water quality by collecting and analyzing data to determine trends, document improvements, and assess the need for additional, or more stringent, measures;

     m.   [The provisions of section 6 of P.L.1984, c.128 (C.13:17-6.1), or any other law, rule, or regulation regarding purchases, contracts, or agreements to the contrary notwithstanding, at the request of the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, evaluate, approve, and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement, or improvement of Liberty State Park and the buildings, structures, properties, and appurtenances related thereto, or incidental to, necessary for, or complementary to the park.  The commission may avail itself of any plans under review by the Department of Environmental Protection from any source that may promote expanded and diverse recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities for visitors to Liberty State Park and provide greater access to park facilities.  Any approved plans shall constitute a project of the commission, but shall not be adopted as part of the master plan.  Any plans approved by the commission shall be subject to the provisions of P.L.1981, c.447 and subject to approval or disapproval by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.  In evaluating any plan, the Commissioner shall prepare an assessment of environmental impacts on the plan, and how those impacts, if any, may be avoided, minimized, or mitigated.  At least one public hearing in connection with plans under consideration by the commission shall be held at Liberty State Park.  Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to transfer ownership of any of the property of Liberty State Park to the commission or any other person;] (Deleted by amendment, P.L. , c.   ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) and

     n.    Operate a not-for-profit organization which shall continue research opportunities of the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute.

(cf: P.L.2015, c.72, s.10)

 

     10.  This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill, to be known as the “Liberty State Park Protection Act,” would preserve Liberty State Park as a public urban green open space free of inappropriate privatization by establishing certain requirements concerning actions by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) related to Liberty State Park and establishing a Liberty State Park Advisory Committee (committee). 

     The bill would prohibit the DEP from considering any proposal to commercialize, develop, or privatize Liberty State Park, except as provided in the bill.  The bill would prohibit any concession, conveyance, or lease within the 235-acre natural restoration area in the interior of Liberty State Park, and at Caven Point Peninsula.  The bill would require the DEP, within three years after the bill is enacted into law, to develop a management plan for Liberty State Park in consultation with the committee.  The DEP would be required to present to the committee for review and recommendations:  any proposed agreement for a concession, conveyance, or lease with a term of one year or longer; the extension or renewal for a term of one year or longer any concession, conveyance, or lease in effect on the date the bill is enacted into law; and any proposed special event that may have a significant impact on the ability of the public to access and enjoy Liberty State Park.  In addition, the bill directs the DEP to develop and implement, in conjunction with the committee, a comprehensive public participation process to allow public citizens and civic organizations to provide public input on any proposed changes in land use at Liberty State Park or to the management plan developed pursuant the bill, and to also, at least once each year, hold a public forum to receive input from the public concerning plans, improvements, preservation, conservation, and management of the park, in addition to any public hearings that may be required pursuant to law. 

     Under the bill, the DEP would only approve a concession, conveyance, lease, or other agreement with a private entity to provide small-scale commercial activities that directly enhance the experience of a visitor to Liberty State Park, such as a bicycle or kayak rental concession, food concession, temporary winter skating rink, commercial boat tour operating from an existing boat slip, and use of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal (“CRRNJ Terminal”), and other uses identified in the management plan developed pursuant to the bill.

      In addition, whenever the DEP proposes to enter into a concession, lease, or other agreement for a duration of one year or longer, the DEP would be required to present the proposal to the committee for review and recommendations and provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposal, including holding two public hearings at Liberty State Park, with one hearing being held on a weekday evening and one on the weekend, and providing a 30-day public comment period.  In addition, the DEP would be required to take these same actions when it intends to convey lands acquired or developed by the State with Green Acres funds, or acquired or developed by the State in any other manner and administered by the department, located within or adjacent to Liberty State Park. 

     The Liberty State Park Advisory Committee established by the bill would be charged with assisting the DEP in conserving, preserving, protecting, and improving Liberty State Park.  In carrying out its responsibilities, the committee would give due consideration to the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources and the local, State, and national significance of Liberty State Park. 

     The committee’s responsibilities would include:  reviewing any matter relating to the improvement, protection, and restoration of Liberty State Park; assisting the DEP in developing the management plan required by the bill, and advising the DEP on the ecological restoration of the 235-acre interior portion of the park and means to increase public access and public enjoyment of the natural, historic, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources of the park; reviewing concessions, leases, or other agreements with a duration of one year or longer; studying any policies, plans, rules, and regulations adopted by the department that may impact Liberty State Park; and submitting to the DEP Commissioner any recommendations the committee deems necessary to improve, protect, and restore the park.

     In addition, this bill would amend the “State Park and Forestry Resources Act,” P.L.1983, c. 324 (C.13:1L-1 et seq.), which, in part, allows the DEP to enter agreements with private entities for the construction, operation, and maintenance for private profit of any facility, utility, or device in State parks and forests as the DEP finds proper for the use and enjoyment of the lands by the public.  This bill would amend the law to reflect the provisions of this bill concerning agreements related to Liberty State Park.

     Lastly, the bill would amend the “Hackensack Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act” to delete the provision that provided the commission, i.e., the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which under current law is also referred to as the “Meadowlands Regional Commission,” with certain authority concerning Liberty State Park.

     Liberty State Park, located in Jersey City, is a priceless New Jersey and American treasure and an urban oasis in the middle of densely populated metropolitan northern New Jersey.  With internationally-recognized landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, and the Manhattan skyline as a spectacular backdrop, Liberty State Park is one of the nation’s most sacred and inspiring parks.  Encompassing over 1,200 acres, approximately 600 acres of land and 600 acres of water, of which all but the interior’s 235 acres are open to the public, the park contains significant natural, historic, recreational, scenic, and cultural resources.  Unfortunately, this unique urban green open space has been the target of repeated privatization and commercialization proposals since the park opened, and the focus of a number of inappropriate development proposals in recent years, which, if approved, would have seriously jeopardized this beloved public resource and severely harmed the public’s ability to enjoy free and full public access to and enjoyment of the park.  This bill would protect Liberty State Park from any future proposals to commercialize or privatize this State and national treasure.