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Christie's marina plan for Liberty State Park may be short-lived
Scott Fallon, Staff Writer,
Jan. 3, 2018
A controversial proposal by the Christie administration to create a large marina at the south end of Liberty State Park may be short-lived.
Hours after Jersey City officials filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block the project, a judge ordered a temporary restraining order that would put the project on hold until governor-elect Phil Murphy is sworn into office later this month.
Murphy indicated Wednesday morning that he would not move ahead with the project.
“There is no reason why a plan to institute commercial development should be rushed through after it was hidden from public scrutiny for months," he said in a statement. "I support the preservation of Liberty State Park so it can be enjoyed by current and future generations.”
Murphy is to be sworn in on Jan. 16, the same day Superior Court Judge Barry Sarkisian scheduled a hearing on the city's lawsuit.
Sarkisian issued the order late Tuesday after a hearing in Hudson County. It temporarily prevents Suntex Marinas from entering into a proposed lease agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the 1,200-acre park.
"This injunction should prevent any agreement to allow a marina on the south side of Liberty State Park prior to the Murphy administration taking office," said Greg Remaud, who sits on a state advisory committee for the park. "After that,
trust Governor-elect Murphy will safeguard the public trust and not lease away the south end of Liberty State Park."
A Suntex spokesman said its attorney representing the company on the matter did not receive notice of Tuesday's court hearing until Wednesday morning. "We wish we had had the opportunity to participate in person at the hearing yesterday to argue on behalf of Suntex," Ron TenEyck, a Suntex senior vice president said in a statement. "We look forward to having our opportunity to defend our position on the 16th."
While the north side of the park has commercial development, including a private marina and two restaurants, the south side has always been "the people's side of the people's park" and has allowed free access to to open space, picnic areas and sweeping harbor views, according to Sam Pesin, president of The Friends of Liberty State Park.
More than 200 people protested the proposal at a demonstration last month.
The marina proposal was first broached in 2014 when the Christie administration began exploring large-scale development possibilities throughout the park including a hotel, conference center and amusement park.
That effort was the centerpiece of Christie’s “Sustainable Parks” initiative that was intended to bring more private concessions, venues and services to generate $15 million a year to reduce reliance on the state budget.
Despite being New Jersey's most popular state park with 5 million visitors a year, the Christie administration has long considered Liberty State Park underutilized because officials have said many people use it only to board a ferry to the Statue of Liberty nearby.
"The park is not 'underutilized,'" Pesin said. "That's a fallacy unless they're talking about winter months or in the middle of the week. It is very crowded on weekends between May and October and the vast majority of users come to the park for recreation and relaxation."
Opened in 1976 on what was once an industrial wasteland, the park stretches over 1,200 acres of land and marsh and has panoramic views of Manhattan. It is home to two restaurants, a private marina, Liberty Science Center and the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.
Protesters at a December rally against a possible second marina at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.
Protesters at a December rally against a possible second marina at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. (Photo: Joan Verdon)
The idea of a hotel and other development began quietly in 2014 when the DEP hired a consultant to "analyze the potential attractiveness of the park to revenue producing developers." The administration also slipped a paragraph into a bill at the last minute to give some development control over the park to the state Sports and Exposition Authority because it can raise money for public-private partnership more easily.
Among the consultant’s suggestions were a low-rise hotel at dilapidated train sheds and a conference center in the adjoining terminal building. It also called for developing the park's southern end, possibly with an amusement park, field house for indoor sports, outdoor amphitheater and another marina.
Opposition to the plans grew among park advocates and local officials. The push-back also frustrated administration officials.
DEP Commissioner Bob Martin dropped those development efforts in May 2016 when he told a legislative panel: “Let me be clear: We are done with this for Liberty State Park. I am not going to invest any more resources on it." http://www.northjersey.com/story/news ... ay-short-lived/999254001/