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NJ Sees First Open Space Funding Gap in 20 Years

Date : Tue, 01 Jul 2008 14:36:40 -0400

  PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release:
Contacts: Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club, 609-558-9100 July 1, 2008 Kelly Mooij, NJAS, 609-577-1434; Tom Gilbert, TPL, 267-261-7325

                                                                      Tom Wells, TNC, 201-317-9655; David Pringle, NJEF, 732-996-4288

                                   Amy Hansen, NJCF, 732-356-9455; Ron Emrich, Preservation New Jersey, 609-392-6409

                         Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper, 732-888-9870; Ed Wengryn, NJ Farm Bureau, 609-393-7163

FIRST OPEN SPACE FUNDING GAP IN 20 YEARS Poll Shows Strong Support for Legislature and Governor to Act Now

TRENTON, NJ - Yesterday, the Governor signed the fiscal year 2009 budget, the first budget in 20 years which will create a gap in funding for open space, historic and farmland preservation funding.

The Keep It Green Campaign held a state house press conference today to call attention to the gap, urge the Governor and the Legislature to take action to provide funding, and release poll results which show strong voter approval for a variety of funding options.

"I was there the last time a gap happened. We lost key properties to development, others we paid 4-5 times more for just a few years later, and some we're still trying to buy 20 years after," said Jeff Tittel of the NJ Sierra Club.

New Jersey voters approved a $200 million bond measure last November to fund state preservation programs as a one year stop gap, but those funds will run dry by December. Open space preservation funding peaked at $345 million per year 4 years ago (FY 2005) and has been dropping precipitously ever since.

"It is vital that we take advantage of the readjustment in the housing and land market," stated Eric Stiles of the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS). "Now is the time to purchase properties to preserve them for the people of our State and the health of our natural resources which includes drinking water and the numerous species that call NJ home. A break in funding now will mean much more land forever lost to development."

The poll (see attached memo for details), a recent statewide survey of 600 likely NJ voters commissioned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL), found a strong majority of voters support various mechanisms to fund state open space, farmland and historic preservation programs, including:

* A $800 million bond (61% Yes - 32% No),

* Dedication of $150 million annually from a water user fee (58% Yes - 34% No); and

* Dedication of $175 million annually in existing sales tax revenues (54% Yes - 35% No).

"These results demonstrate that New Jersey voters continue to strongly support a number of options for investing in the protection of New Jersey's land, water and heritage, even in a weak economy," said TPL's Tom Gilbert.

"Voters have overwhelmingly approved over a dozen ballot questions in the past 47 years and the poll results show the public is behind open space even during trying economic times. This is my top priority this fall," added Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), chair of the Assembly Environment Committee and sponsor of several bills to renew and strengthen the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT).

-- more --

When the GSPT runs dry, numerous preservation projects and agreements will grind to a halt. The effects of this lack of funding will be particularly hard felt in urban communities.

"There are a number of tremendous open space acquisitions lined up in New Jersey's densely populated communities that will require Green Acres funding matches to be successful. Without the long term renewal of the Garden State Preservation Trust the great progress on preserving Middlesex County's Dismal Swamp, Hudson County's 6th Street Embankment Park, Essex County's Third River Greenway and other great public projects will be jeopardized," stated Greg Remaud of the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The environmentalists provided many other examples of projects that would be threatened by this historic gap in funding as well as a long list of accomplishments of past years' funds. TNC's Tom Wells said: "Thanks to Green Acres funding, The Nature Conservancy has acquired and maintains 37 nature preserves in New Jersey. Our efforts to create new nature preserves to benefit the public will be crippled when Green Acres funds run out later this year".

"Over the last decade, half the farmland sold in the state was deed restricted for permanent preservation for agriculture production," added Rich Nieuwenhuis of the NJ Farm Bureau. "Without state funding to continue preservation efforts, we risk going back to the dark days of losing farmland to other uses and that means losing that land forever."

Historic preservation projects will also be jeopardized, threatening the loss of invaluable historic properties that can never be recovered. "Hundreds of historic places important to people across the state are at more risk than ever before, now that NJ Historic Trust funds are running out," said John D.S. Hatch, AIA, of Preservation New Jersey. "The environmental and economic costs to communities when these landmarks are lost - torn down and carted to the landfill - are enormous. Now is the time to invest in community revitalization by renewing and strengthening GSPT to reduce sprawl while protecting our cultural heritage. "

The activists noted that New Jersey has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a leader in open space preservation, a significant accomplishment for a geographically small, densely populated state. Unfortunately, that reputation seems likely to be lost. Amy Hansen of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) stated: "New Jersey's land preservation program is held up as a successful model nationwide. But now landowners are being turned away from preservation programs, and without a measure on the ballot this November, the only option will be to sell for development."

The Keep it Green Campaign members present implored the Legislature and the Governor to act to find funding for open space preservation and prevent the first gap in 20 years. "The Governor and Legislature must act now, before it's too late. They can either lead or follow, it's up to them, the voters have shown that they are already there in support of open space," agreed David Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation (NJEF).

"The loss of funding to preserve open space, farmland, and historic sites would be a tragedy to the Garden State," concluded Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Environment Committee and sponsor of several bills to renew and strengthen GSPT.

The New Jersey - Keep It Green Campaign is a coalition of more than 100 organizations from across the state working to strengthen and renew the Garden State Preservation Trust. For more information on this Campaign, please visit www.NJKeepItGreen.org <http://www.njkeepitgreen.org/> .

###

Becca Glenn, Program Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618

609-656-7612: phone

609-656-7618: fax

Received on 2008-07-01 14:48:16

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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