After a public hearing and three public breakout sessions – and with surveys seeking community input still being done – the state Department of Environmental Protection has a lot to consider as it continues working on the restoration plan for Liberty State Park’s “interior.’’
A number of positives have come out of this process, which, in our experience, has been an unusually extended one for the state.
First, recently named Deputy DEP Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity Olivia Glenn deserves high praise for her obvious determination to hear from “all stakeholders’’ and to really listen to what each commenter has to say. Leading by example, she made sure some half-dozen or more members of the DEP team working on the plan were available at each session to present proposals in-depth, answer questions and note suggestions.
And while the process focuses on 234 interior acres that are off-limits to the public because of contamination, the public was able to bring ideas and suggestions for the park as a whole to the discussions.
The sessions also gave people who live near the park in Jersey City’s Wards A, F and E a forum to talk about larger societal issues and the need for more active recreation facilities, mentoring and job opportunities, especially for local teens.
The initial proposal for the creation of two new marshes, an urban forest, meadows, seven miles of trails and new entrances to make the park more accessible to neighborhood residents is simply lovely. The thought of being able to truly commune with nature right in the city is an exciting one.
We’re reminded of a recent church youth group outing from Jersey City’s Greenville section to South Mountain Reservation in West Orange. Many of the kids had never been hiking before since the Essex County park is 35 minutes by car — and a world — away.
Also exciting is the prospect of new ballfields, basketball courts and other places for kids to play.
The director of Jersey City’s Recreation and Youth Development programs, the leader of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition and others movingly spoke during the sessions of a need far outpacing the capacity of current facilities.
What continues to cast a pall over the discussions, though, is the vicious and untruthful campaign against longtime park advocates that appears designed to stop the passage of the Liberty State Protection Act proposed in Trenton. Should that happen, the fight to keep the ecologically sensitive and unrivaled “outdoor classroom’’ at the Caven Point Peninsula area of the park free from the threat of privatization would become that much harder.
We renew our call for state legislators to pass the act and for Gov. Murphy to sign it into law.
And we look forward to the next stage of discussions on plans for the park interior and new active recreation opportunities.
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