The Department of Environmental Protection announced today that it is committing tens of  millions of dollars to the ecological restoration of 234 acres of Liberty State Park’s interior, creating knolls with sweeping views of the Jersey City and Manhattan skylines and increasing public accessibility, according to Governor Murphy and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.

The proposed design would restore natural resources and create access to the interior of the park that has been off limits to the public for decades due to historic environmental contamination.

The DEP will host a public meeting in late September and make presentation materials available online (https://nj.gov/dep/nrr/) to invite comments and suggestions from the public.

“Liberty State Park is a cherished cornerstone of our state that improves the quality of life for New Jerseyans and offer great services and experiences,” said Governor Murphy. “Today’s investment will allow us to not only rebuild, but enhance the site while preserving the environment, to provide opportunities for residents to discover and enjoy for generations to come.”

The restoration project area has been closed off to the public by a chain-link fence due to contamination from low levels of metals and hydrocarbons. The site was used to deposit soil in the late 1800’s and covered tidal wetlands, in more than 70 acres of the area.

As part of the redesign, the contaminated soil will be excavated and then capped with clean soil. The clean soil will then be planted with trees, grass and other vegetation. All other open public areas of Liberty State Park were remediated similarly in the past.

At approximately one-third the size of New York City’s Central Park, the proposed natural resources restoration will increase the park’s accessible space by 40 percent and will:

• Clean up contamination
• Restore the natural ecosystems
• Create additional access to the park for nearby residents
• Improve water and air quality
• Reduce runoff
• Help mitigate climate change
• Create public-use enhancements

The draft plan aims to restore several habitat types for a wide variety of species and includes 72 acres of fresh and saltwater wetlands. The proposed design also creates seven miles of additional trails within the park, adds more than 300 new parking spaces, and includes a variety of wildlife viewing, educational, and passive recreational opportunities for visitors.

“Engaging with and listening to our communities is critical to all of our environmental justice and equity work,” said Olivia Glenn, DEP’s Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice & Equity. “The public conversation to come is necessary to ensure that the future of Liberty State Park truly incorporates the needs of its neighbors and the visiting public. We know that improved access to natural landscapes are priorities for our communities, but there are often other community priorities that we can address like reducing flooding and brownfield revitalization, making this conversation critical to the success of the design.”

“Liberty State Park is one our most protected treasures here in Jersey City and it’s a welcomed initiative and well-worth celebrating when the State promises actions like this,” Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop said. “Ensuring that Liberty State Park remains a protected open space for everyone is essential, but by significantly enhancing it by making large areas that currently lie behind chained fences, which were polluted during the past industrial era years ago, now open, cleaned and made safe for the use of residents, and visitors – how do you not applaud this endeavor.”

Sam Pesin, president of The Friends of Liberty State Park is pleased.  “This tremendously exciting news about the urban nature restoration to benefit urban residents and all visitors, comes 25 years after Governor Whitman listened to the overwhelming majority and rejected the interior golf course plan. In addition to this spectacular nature wonderland and the DEP’s pledge to collaborate on some active recreation and other amenities, the passage of the Liberty State Park Protection Act is essential to fully ensure a great future for the People’s Park behind Lady Liberty.”

“After 30 years of being fenced off to the public and a ceaseless parade of private development schemes for Liberty Park’s 234-acre interior, NJDEP is delivering an exceptional natural restoration and public access plan for this area. We are thrilled!” said Greg Remaud, Baykeeper & CEO of NY/NJ Baykeeper.

“I welcome today’s announcement about reaching a new milestone for the Liberty State Park interior restoration project, which will ultimately benefit Jersey City’s children,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham.

“We are deeply appreciative to Governor Murphy and Commissioner McCabe for investing in Liberty State Park, which is a national treasure and the keeper of this country’s diverse, rich history with markers that have guided generations of citizens and attracted people from all over the world,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji of Jersey City, Chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and a longtime champion of Liberty State Park.

The restoration project is funded primarily through Natural Resource Damages (NRD) settlements. NRD settlements use compensation from polluters who have caused environmental harm to fund projects that restore injuries to New Jersey’s natural resources, like the forests and wetlands proposed in Liberty State Park.

Header photo by Shayna Marchese

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