Sounding very much like a man supporting new Liberty State Park legislation, Gov. Phil Murphy said the waterfront state park “is a gem, but it’s punching way under its weight” Wednesday night during his “Ask the Governor” call-in radio show on WNYC in New York.
This week a group of Hudson County state legislators introduced the bill, the Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act, that would provide $250 million for the recreational overhaul of the park.
Critics say, more importantly, it would allow for the state Department of Environmental Protection “to generate revenue and other funds, donations, or endowments to ensure adequate reserve funds for the ongoing and future maintenance of the park.”
Liberty State Park “could be so much more than it is particularly for the residents that live right around there in Jersey City, obviously,” the governor said in response to a caller who asked it he would pledge his support to the Liberty State Park Protection Act. The legislation, which was never voted on, would have protected the park from privatization while also supporting active recreation in the park.
“I don’t comment on legislation that isn’t on our desk and where we’ve made a decision, so my commentary is not about anyone’s particular bill,” Murphy said, declining to support the LSP Protection Act.
The governor immediately turned his attention to “a big event (at Liberty State Park) next week,” although he declined to provide any details.
Long-time park advocates claim that Paul Fireman, billionaire owner of the ultra-exclusive Liberty National Golf Course, is behind two groups, Liberty State Park 4 All and the People’s Park Foundation, that are supporting the new legislation. Fireman tried unsuccessfully to acquire or lease an ecologically sensitive area of the park for three new holes for his golf course, saying it was necessary to attract major PGA and LPGA events.
Murphy downplayed the possibility of Fireman acquiring any part of the park for his golf course.
“I think that ship has sailed,” he said. “The stuff that got proposed in a bill this week or what (the caller) was talking about (Assemblyman) Raj Mukherji’s (LSP Protection Act) bill, I don’t think that’s still a debate. I haven’t heard any parts of that debate for a couple of years now.”
Sam Pesin, president of the park advocacy group Friends of Liberty State Park, again Thursday criticized the proposed legislation and urged the governor to support the Protection Act.
“I don’t think we can ever stop worrying about Fireman trying to take the land until the Protection Act is passed,” he said. “This new act is creating the opportunity to privatize the park, in the name of trying to pay for itself and its upkeep. Parks are not supposed to pay for themselves.
A mailer from the People’s Park Foundation, touting a 7,000-seat concert venue, a 5,000-seat stadium, a track and field stadium and other recreation fields, arrived in Hudson County mail boxes on the same day the legislation was introduced. Critics called that proof of a coordinated effort between he legislators, Fireman and the alleged “astroturf” groups.
DKC Sports, a public relations firm representing Fireman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Murphy failed to mention it during the broadcast, but state officials announced last year the formation of a DEP Liberty State Park Redesign Task Force and that at least 61 acres of the park would be dedicated to ballfield and active recreation. The new bill reiterates much of what the task force has already been working on.
“Sometimes people think, ‘OK, it’s it’s in a perfect pristine state right now doing everything it needs to, particularly for the neighbors who live right around it.’ It isn’t. It isn’t. It needs it needs to be better and it can be better,” Murphy said. “… We need to give people a lot more access than they’ve got.”
Murphy came back around to the one point everyone agrees on, that active recreational facilities are needed at the park.
“I want to make the point, the right solution is not to keep it the way it is,” he said. “It’s a gem, but it can be much, much, much better, especially for the folks who live right around there.”