Liberty State Park: A History Of Broken Promises

Liberty State Park (LSP) was originally meant to be more accessible to the local minority community and include a variety of activities that would make the Park more enjoyable for everyone. Those activities were supposed to go on the Interior portion of the Park, but the Interior is still polluted and has never been properly cleaned up. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is now proposing a plan that would leave contamination at the Park, avoid a full clean-up and continue the long history of broken promises at LSP. Understanding the broken promises of Liberty State Park – and why it is critical that there be a plan that fully cleans up the Park and creates a real process for minority communities to be heard and listened to – means understanding the vision that was first developed for the Park, why it hasn’t happened, and why minority communities have been shut out of the process.

Industrial Past

The western edge of Liberty State Park was once the waterfront home of the Lenape and later Dutch settlers of New Netherland, who started a ferry service to Manhattan in 1661. The northern edge of the park follows the line of the old Morris Canal whose barges carried Pennsylvania coal to the expanding industrial and urban markets surrounding New York Bay in the early nineteenth century. The eastern edge of the park was filled in by the railroads starting in the mid-nineteenth century as the tidal flats along the Jersey City waterfront were transformed into vast expanses of railroad yards, and passenger and cargo transportation facilities.

Starting in the late 1800’s the shallows/mud flats of Liberty State Park were covered over by dumping of fill. Over the next several decades the area was completely covered over with debris, excavated soil from other construction projects, demolition debris, blasted stone from construction sites, obsolete wooden barges filled with stone and coal ash and sunk in place. Eventually the filled in area extended outward over one mile from the historic shoreline. The dominant activity on this filled in area was railroad. There were locomotive repair shops, fuel oil storage tanks, rail sidings, docks for rail ferries to New York City and a passenger terminal. In the early to mid 1900’s quantities of chromium laced waste tailings, from nearby chromium (chrome) ore processing plants, was used as fill. This fill was subsequently built on by the railroads. In the mid to late 1960’s railroad activity ceased and the site evolved into an abandoned area.

Click here to read about how the industrial past of the property left contamination of chromium and other toxic hazards at LSP.

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Timeline

1958

1958

The Military closed Caven Point Army Terminal. Caven Point beach dates back to the early 1940s, when the Caven Point Army Terminal was built on landfill comprised of material dredged from the Upper New York Bay.  It is purchased from the City of Jersey City by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in December 1980.

1965

1965

Jersey City donates 144 acres of waterfront to the State of New Jersey, including Black Tom, which becomes the nucleus of Liberty State Park. The deserted and decaying ruin of the CRRNJ Terminal, and adjacent acreage, was added through local, state and federal funds.

1976

1976

Governor Brendan Byrne officially opens Liberty State Park.

1977

1977

Following an intensive community development process that included 23 public input meetings throughout Jersey City, Newark, Hoboken, and Trenton, the Liberty State Park Study and Planning Commission develops a Master Plan for the Park. The Master Plan, which remains in effect today, is approved by the NJDEP. The Master Plan aims to protect the Park but also to provide for economic and recreational opportunities. These opportunities include:

  • amphitheater
  • marinas
  • aquarium
  • agricultural center
  • community gardens and greenhouses
  • retail shops
  • restaurants, science and technology center
  • public golf course
  • industrial craft center, day camp
  • public pools
  • ballfields
  • ball courts
  • tennis courts

 

The Master Plan discusses a public transportation system to allow surrounding underserved community members free and unfettered access to the Park and all of the contemplated recreational and cultural activities. The Liberty State Park Study and Planning Commission also establishes Master Plan Guidelines. The guidelines declare that:

 

“A park is for the people! And people are both young and old, active and contemplative, found in grounds and in solitude, artistic and athletic, nature lovers, city dwellers, residents from neighboring areas and visitors from afar. The park, in a manner similar to the great parks being enjoyed today which were planned a century or more ago, must continue to expand to meet the needs of all persons visiting the park; the park must be a growing, living organism. The Commission feels that Liberty State Park should be planned to serve a multitude of recreational needs of various visitors to the park. It will indeed be a green cornerstone for an entire urban sure, a nature environment with urban convenience. It should have a proper mixture of various types of recreation and leisure activities.”

Click Here To Read The Master Plan Guidelines.

The majority of these amenities and opportunities are never acted upon over the following years.

 

1979

1979

The Park’s Master Plan is officially unveiled. By Executive Order # 74, Governor Byrne sets up the Liberty State Park Advisory Commission to act as a reviewing body for any public or private proposals for the park.

Click Here To Read The Master Plan Report.

1980

1980

The State of New Jersey purchases the Skyline Cabana Club for Liberty State Park. The club includes a swimming pool, catering hall, eight tennis courts, handball courts, an amphitheater and 1,000 capacity building available for shows. The public pool and tennis courts were open in the Park located at the border of Bergen Lafayette, but are later transferred to exclusive use by Camp Liberty, furthering exclusion of access to recreational and community resources for Jersey City Wards F and A residents. It is unclear what happened to the other cabana club facilities.

1983

1983

The NJDEP and the Liberty State Park Public Advisory Commission along with Liberty State Park Workshop Participants (with no representatives of Jersey City Wards F and A communities) prepare the Liberty State Park Action Program, which confirms the majority of the Master Plan. The program proposes that development of the Interior area of the Park for active sports fields and community gardens be reduced due to the potential cost of environmental clean-up of chromium and other hazardous contamination. The Action plan states that it is “too expensive to develop and operate, bring in no income, and not contribute to the park’s ambience.” The result of this finding was that areas meant for active recreation (ballfields, basketball courts, etc) were instead either left contaminated or for passive use that requires less strict environmental clean-up.

The Action Program also recommends that a non-profit corporation be set up to implement Park development. Soon afterwards, Governor Kean announces the formation of the Liberty State Park Development Corporation, a non-profit organization. The Corporation is to undertake activities to support the development of the Park but only with written approval from DEP.

Click Here To Read The 1983 Liberty State Park Action Program

1986

1986

The DEP enters into a contract with the Development Corporation to undertake development of the Park.

1987

1987

Jersey City sues the NJDEP to prevent the development of the now existing Liberty Harbor Marina and restaurants (Liberty House and Maritime Parc). The suit claims the State exceeded its authority by allowing the proposed project that leased 50 acres of a state park to a private corporation and did not uphold the Liberty State Park Master Plan. The Court determines the NJDEP did exceed its authority by allowing a public-private partnership, recognized and confirmed the Liberty State Park Master Plan, and found the Liberty Harbor Marina to be in compliance of the Master Plan and the Parks and Forestry Act.

  • “Although Liberty State Park has been dedicated to public recreation since 1977, much of the parkland has remained unimproved. Some areas are still littered with debris, unusable for any recreational purpose. The Executive Branch has decided that cooperative public-private development is the best way, probably the only way, to develop this unique recreational area in the absence of substantial public funds. We are sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ claim that the marina development plans may be targeted for the more affluent segment of our society’s recreational users. But we are confident that the overall development of the balance of the Park by the Executive Branch will provide in the end for the use and enjoyment of all economic classes. N.J.S.A. 13:1L-5(b): ‘The [DEP] shall strive to provide recreational opportunities to all segments of the State’s population…’”

Click Here To Read Jersey City v. Dept. of Envir. Protection, 545 A. 2d 774 – NJ: Appellate Div.

1992

1992

NJDEP finds that the “Dog Show Field” located in the Black Tom Channel cannot be used for a proposed high school football field because heavy metals and coal combustion residues (PAH) were detected above NJDEP residential standards. Heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, zinc, and copper) and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Petroleum hydrocarbons Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (e.g., dieldrin and DDT), petroleum free-product, chromate chemical production waste (CCPW), and hexavalent chromium (CrVI) have been previously identified in the park.

1993

1993

Interfaith Community Organization (ICO), a Jersey City church coalition for environmental cleanup, sues NJDEP Commissioner Shinn to force the state to clean up Liberty State Park. ICO, now known as part of Jersey City Together, is angered by an agreement between Allied Signal (now known as Honeywell) and the State to clean up the chromium and other toxic contaminants that did not include the park. Labeling the agreement as “environmental racism,” Rev. Ashley of ICO states that 100 of his 2,200 church members showed signs of chromium exposure.

Click Here To Read June 17, 1993 Bergen Record Article

1998

1998

The Court determines that the contaminants in certain areas of Liberty State Park present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and issue an order that certain areas of the Park be fenced and that other areas be fenced or covered with one foot of clean soil.

ICO Consent Order

Click Here To Read The 2017 Jersey City Environmental Commission Minutes That Affirm There Is Only One Foot Of Clean Fill In The Park

2000

2000

Commissioner Shinn starts an Interdisciplinary Planning Committee to control the “planning process” for the General Management Plan of Liberty State Park – during the ongoing lawsuit with ICO – to decide on the proposed use for the interior as well as future plans of the park.

The Planning Committee does not have a single representative from the Wards F and A community.

2000

After nearly a decade long fight, a Consent Decree is issued for the environmental site cleanup of the park.

    • The Consent order allows DEP to avoid site remediation by designating park areas as “conservation areas” and keeping the park in its “natural state”. These designations allow the areas to be subject to minimal remediation standards and thus save money and preserve a certain vision of the park for open space and not active recreation which would have been more costly remediation.

 

  • DEP standards for the cleanup were minimal and far below current thresholds. A Site Remediation Standard of at least one foot of clean soil with a vegetative cover be placed over contaminated soils to prevent erosion was required.
  • To develop the portion of the interior known as “Dredged Materials Area”, as requested by the DEP, for a Pursued habitat restoration project through the US Army Corp of Engineer Hudson-Raritan Estuary Environmental Restoration Study and the remaining area should be at least 1 foot of clean fill, which must be completed by December 31, 2007.
  • Any development activities in LSP (commercial or otherwise) would trigger the need for further remediation, for which the costs would undoubtedly be prohibitive.

Click Here To Read The Consent Decree

2001

2001

NJDEP Commissioner Shinn releases the recommendations General Management Plan and Implementation Strategy of the Interior (the 40% of the park). The Interdisciplinary Planning Committee that helped shape the report did not include members of the surrounding impacted communities. The Committee favors keeping open space limited to passive uses that require a lesser standard of environmental cleanup. This reflects the input of certain constituencies that were strongly represented during this process while excluding the voice and input of minority and underserved communities that surround the Interior section of the Park.

The recommendations stated that complete mitigation (aka, the cleanup on contamination with one foot of soil) would not protect those areas that have ecological or education values.

Click Here To Read 2001 NJDEP General Management Plan Recommendations

2003

2003

NJDEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell issues a policy directive eliminating the Liberty State Park Development Corporation.

2007

2007

NJDEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson issues a memorandum lifting the Chromium Moratorium and increasing the chromium clean up standard. The Chromium Moratorium was originally initiated after a public outcry by Jersey City residents at a November 2003 community meeting that dealt with remediation of chromate ore sites in Jersey City and potential exposure to hexavalent chromium.

2009

2009

Sam Pesin and Friends of Liberty State Park sue DEP to stop construction of the now existing “New Jersey September 11, 2001 Memorial” at the northeastern end of the Park. The Appellate Division dismisses the Friends of Liberty State Park, Inc lawsuit.

Click Here To Read November 24, 2009 NJ.com Article

2011

2011

After identifying Honeywell and PPG as the responsible parties, a consent judgement is entered into that holds them responsible for several Liberty State Park sites for chromium contamination and clean up. In the consent judgment, only Site 15 is labeled as “Liberty State Park,” but several Interior portions include Chromium sites 196, 178 (former Cabana Club and home of Camp Liberty), 206, and 93.

Click Here To Read The Consent Judgement

2012

2012

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy causes an 11 foot storm surge flooding Liberty State Park and causing millions of dollars of extensive damage to walkways, recreational amenities (such as picnic areas and playgrounds), landscaping and vegetation (such as downed trees and removed turf and soil), and structures including the Historic Central Railroad Terminal, pedestrian footbridge, and the Interactive Nature Center Building (which remains closed), and 9/11 Memorial.

Following a revision of the Coastal Flood Maps following Superstorm Sandy, Liberty State Park is located in the Special Flood Hazard Area as identified by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the majority of the area in the high risk AE Flood Zone and high risk costal area VE Flood Zone.

2020

2020

Over 40 years after it called for a host of economic and recreational opportunities, much of the Master Plan’s vision for Liberty State Park remains unrealized. With almost 40% of the Park land acreage (approximately 235 acres) still unusable and inaccessible due to environmental contamination, public health and general welfare are of concern given its direct proximity to Jersey City neighborhoods.