In a recent press release, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin announced that $67.4 million in green acres funding is now available for open space programs. The Green Acres program will accept applications from municipalities, counties and nonprofit groups to use the funds for grants and loans for land acquisitions, park development and stewardship projects. These applications are due by February 15, 2017.
“The Christie Administration is finally releasing the open space funds. It’s about time since they’ve been sitting on this round of open space money for over two years. This is the first time since June of 2015 that we’ve had money for open space. Dedicating open space funds is a win-win for the people and environment of New Jersey. This funding can be used to turn brownfields into greenfields. It can be used to provide places for children and adults both to play and enjoy nature. It will encourage exercise and an appreciate for our environment. They will make neighborhoods more likely to become fixed up and redeveloped. Creating open space can invigorate a community and everyone who lives in it,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The press release also mentioned that for the first time, the Green Acres program will also accept applications for land stewardship activities. The DEP defines land stewardship as “an activity that goes beyond routine maintenance to restore and enhance lands for recreational and conservation purposes.” The Sierra Club is concerned that these stewardship activities will actually be logging and other things that undermine the protection of natural resources in our parks.
“None of the funds should go for stewardship because that means they could actually be going to destroy open space. For example, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife cut down trees to create grass habitat. We could be clear-cutting the Pinelands to create habitat for invasive species. Giving money to stewardship would mean it ends up being used for the wrong purposes,” said Jeff Tittel. “They’re also using stewardship as an excuse to log Sparta Mountain. This is the kind of dangerous activities that happen when we allow open space funds to be used for stewardship that is weakly defined.”
The DEP also needs to make sure we’re funding parks in the state. After being blocked by the Governor, the Legislature took money from funding parks for open space. State Parks in NJ provide $4.5 billion/year in economic activity. Yet since the 1980’s we’ve added a third more open space but cut DEP park staffing by close to 70%. We’ve also added hundreds of thousands of acres of open space without adequate money for capital repair or maintenance.
“They’re finally putting out money for open space but we still need to work on funding parks. In 2003, because of the problems in our parks, NJ voters passed a dedication of $15 million/year for parks capital repair and improvements. In 2015 that dedication was supposed to increase to $30 million/year. Since Christie would not fund open space, the Legislature decided to fund open space by taking money from parks. They also took money from brownfields and site remediation. We’ve been buying properties without funding to maintain them and also giving public money to keep private land private,” said Jeff Tittel. “Parks are important places for people to get together and recreate and we need to make sure we fund them.”
These funds have been held up for two years. Now that they’re finally being released, we can work to preserve important pieces of open space and create places for New Jersians to recreate and enjoy the outdoors. This is an important move by the DEP.
“The people of New Jersey want open spaces funding and support creating parks and acquiring land. Two years ago the voters passed the dedication for open space and now the funds are getting released. The Christie Administration is the first to never come up with a plan for open space. While we’ve been waiting for open space monies to come forward, some properties were already sold off to developers. The people of New Jersey understand how vitally important it is to have places where they can get together with their children and neighbors to play, recreate, or just enjoy the outdoors. They’re been delaying the funds for so long and we’re happy to see them finally released,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.