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Liberty State Park Make the Public Pay

Date : Tue, 11 Sep 2012 15:52:02 -0400

For Immediate Release
September 6, 2012 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Liberty State Park Make the Public Pay Today the DEP will unveil a new picnic area in Liberty State Park.They are charging $125 to use the picnic area and the public cannot use them without paying to do so.Even though taxpayers are paying for them and they are in a Park, even if they are not being used for an event you still have to pay to use the Pavilion and picnic tables.You cannot go to the Park and use them, you have to rent them even if they are empty.By charging these fees when they turn the park over to a concessioner, the private entity will make the income.This isn't about making it easier for the public to use these facilities but about making it attractive for a concessioner to lease the park and get the income from these facilities.

"This is part of the Christie privatization scheme run amuck.You will have to pay to use every part of the park soon.You will have to pay to park, picnic, swim, and all the different uses in the Park.They are going to start charging people to use everything in the Parks that belong to them.It is outrageous that average families that want to use the park now have to pay to use the pavilion if they want to keep their family dry or out of the sun at Liberty State Park," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*. Last year the Governor diverted $40 million from the DEP to the general fund instead of putting the money towards our parks.This year there is a slight increase in the budget for Parks, but this comes from the corporate tax revenue increases, and is still significantly less than three years ago. Park staffing continues to drop despite the state's growing open space roster and the need to steward more public land.In 1995, there were 850 employees in the Parks and Forestry program. Now the program is down to about 407 employees and changes to the pension programs could lower staff further.Lack of staffing led to two thefts in our parks last year.The Governor is using these cuts in staff as an excuse to privatize instead of funding Parks and Forestry at past levels.

"Governor Christie has cut the budget for state parks and eliminated their staff as an excuse to privatize and give away New Jersey's treasured assets to private companies.Governor Christie is privatizing our parks without public oversight, scrutiny, and pay-to-play restrictions," said Jeff Tittel.

Previous Problems with Privatization We have already seen problems at privatized sites.In the past many of these contracts have been sweetheart deals for the park operator that have cost the state money and restricted public access.The state purchased the Cream Ridge Golf Course using Green Acres money for $ 4 million dollars and then leased the facility back to the company the state purchased it from for $100,000 dollars a year. If a private company has a choice between a corporate event such as a company picnic and public access, the company will choose the money-making event at the expense of public access, as seen in Island Beach State Park and the Farley Marina in Atlantic City.At Skylands Manor public access is restricted for weddings and other corporate events.The state recently privatized Barnegat Lighthouse which is now run by the local Chamber of Commerce.For years we have battled against private golf courses and water parks at Liberty State Park and now these things could happen under the Christie plan.

"We are seeing a dismantling of our public park system where it is going into private hands.We are losing public access and public control," said Jeff Tittel. The DEP has a history of not collecting fees on existing leases or to private companies.A 2004 audit by the Office of Legislative Services found that in one State Park alone, D&R Canal State Park, more than $700,000 had gone uncollected from leases.The audit also found there were literally hundreds of leases that couldn't even be found, much less checked for validity and payment history.Recently the Christie administration has been leasing state land to natural gas companies for pennies on the dollar for infrastructure projects. On January 1 of this year, a number of fees for entering and using the state's Parks and Forests were quietly raised, without notifying the public, in direct violation of the state's Administrative Procedure Act. Instead of complying with the Administrative Procedure Act, the DEP, without any notice whatsoever to the public, raised the rates in the hopes no one would notice or complain.

Liberty State Park Lease Limits Public Access and Has No Oversight The RFP and lease used at Liberty would be the model to get more private concessions and amenities in our parks.The RFP and lease have no safeguards to prevent pay-to-play abuse, sweetheart deals, or insiders getting control of these public assets.There are not enough safeguards to ensure adequate public access and public oversight are maintained.The lease places no limit on the amount the company can charge the public for these services.There are very few limits on the type of commercial uses and we could end up with very intense and even not appropriate development in our parks such as chain restaurants, arcades, indoor shops, and conference centers.Will commercial uses such as theme parks, golf courses, and water parks be part of our state parks' future to with privatization?These leases could mean restricted access, higher prices, and more commercial development in our state parks with no public process. If you think there will be public access under privatization just look at the Christie administration's proposed beach access rules that severely limit public access. Under his plan two-thirds of the state park budget would come from alternative funding.Entrance fees will not be raised but additional fees for parking, swimming, use recreational facilities, and other services could be created or raised.

"The Governor is taking liberties with our state parks at the site that most represents liberty in New Jersey.This national symbol of freedom will have its public access restricted and other parks could be following suite under Governor Christie. Something is wrong when we take New Jersey's state parks and privatize them.The Governor is giving away our most treasured assets," said Jeff Tittel.

Jeff concluded, "Parks have been the one thing that government does right and that people have enjoyed for years being above politics and commercialization. Now the Christie Administration is clearly doing both by breaking the public trust and giving away our public lands to private corporations that only care about their bottom line and not the people of New Jersey."

Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
NJ-Sierra-Chapter-Ex-Committee List Info & Archives:<a>
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Received on 2012-09-11 12:52:02

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