JERSEY CITY -- For more than two decades, Rosardo Dolores, a resident of the city, has been coming to Liberty State Park to fish off of its southernmost end.
But on Saturday, he came to the public park for a more urgent reason.
Rosardo and more than 100 residents, children, activists and local officials came out to protest a state plan to develop a marina along the waterfront, near the park's flag plaza.
"We've been using the same message from 40 years of battles: that the people own this park and we want this park to be free, open and green without privatization," said Sam Pesin, director of Friends of Liberty State Park, at the protest. "This area was transformed... from a waterfront wasteland into a beautiful park with taxpayer money and once again greedy profiteers and (Gov. Chris Christie)... want to exploit the park for the almighty dollar."
Community groups began sounding alarms last month about the plan, kept relatively hidden by the state, to lease the roughly half-mile length of waterfront of the park to Suntex Marinas, a Texas-based company that runs the marina on the park's north end.
The deal would allow Suntex to rent the state-owned property, for little to nothing, in exchange for Suntex paying to rebuild the bulkhead on the south end of the park. Suntex would then pay to lease the area at some point after the bulkhead is repaired.
The company's vice president, Ron TenEyck Sr., said in a statement that the plan includes a rehabilitation of "what has become a neglected section of the park" by adding a children's sailing school, a replacement of the boat launch, a fishing pier , a boat club, and other amenities that he said would be available to the public.
"As early as 1979, the state's master plan for Liberty State Park called for a marina to be built on the southern portion of the park property," he said. "This marina will in no way hinder the views from the southern portion of the park and in fact, we believe once completed, the project will beautify the area -- offering visitors several new ways to enjoy the park."
He added that, as part of the proposed agremeent with the state DEP, the company will assume maintenance and repair of the northern bulkhead.
But local officials remained adamantly against the plan. Mayor Steven Fulop, speaking at the protest, said he would use every resource necessary to fight the plan.
"Every other year someone gets the idea that they can develop Liberty State Park," he said. "From our standpoint we're going to use every tool -- whether it be legal force, political force or governmental force -- to make sure that unnecessary development doesn't happen here."
Other officials in attendance included Assemblywoman Angela McKnight and Council President Ronald Lavaro. Ward E candidates James Solomon and Rebecca Symes were also on hand.
Meanwhile, a number of community groups and officials also showed their support, including the Jersey City Parks Coalition, the NY/NJ Baykeeper Deputy Director Greg Remaud, and Capt Bill Sheehan of the Hackensack River Keeper.
This certainly isn't the first time the threat of privatization has been challenged in Jersey City. The list is long, but the most recent was in 2015 when the Christie administration entertained an idea to generate revenue for the 1,200 acre park. The plan would would have added private development including a hotel and amphitheater.
Pesin led a coalition of local groups and elected officials in opposition, and the state dropped its plans.
The park is managed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. It operates on a roughly $3.5 million budget.
Pesin said in previous reports that he wants public hearings held after Jan. 1, and at least one hearing in Liberty State Park on a Saturday and a month long period of public comment.
He also called on Governor-elect Phil Murphy to publicly oppose the lease signing.
"We must stop this plan, which would devastate this side of our priceless park," he said.
Corey W. McDonald may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @coreymacc. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook....Read more