Trenton — As Governor Chris Christie lashes out against a November ballot measure to invest millions of dollars for open space preservation, his administration submitted a federal grant application proposing to grow New Jersey’s open space inventory by nearly half, according to documents posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In contrast to Gov. Christie last week calling a greater commitment to open space “crazy stuff” his grant application fulsomely declares –
“New Jerseyans have continually expressed their support…to carry out a comprehensive open space preservation and recreation program. There is no stronger testament of this support than residents consistently voting for open space and recreation referendums not only at the State level, but at the local level as well. In 2013, 257 New Jersey local governments, all 21 counties and 236 municipalities, assessed a tax for land preservation and recreation purposes. New Jersey is clearly a national leader in open space preservation and funding park and recreation facilities.
New Jersey’s 2013-2017 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan was submitted to maintain the state’s eligibility to receive federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service. The Plan states that its purpose is to “preserve a sufficient amount of open space for current and future public recreational use and for the conservation of natural resources important to protecting New Jersey’s biodiversity and quality of life.” To that end, it concludes that “There is a need to preserve an additional 650,000 acres of open space statewide” – roughly a 50% increase in the state’s current total amount of open space. Submitted in 2013, the plan remains in “draft” status, however.
“Apparently the only time the Christie crowd will admit the importance of open space to protect water supplies, stem coastal pollution or increase public safety is when they think it will secure another federal grant,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the state grant pitch calls open space “one of the cornerstones of New Jersey’s quality of life.” “The only constant in the Christie administration is that consistency is always trumped by opportunism.”
In fact, the Christie administration has compiled an abysmal open space record by racking up a pattern of actions designed to weaken land use planning, roll back anti-sprawl rules and issue large-scale waivers for a wide variety of land use protections. A sample of the Christie development-above-all posture includes:
- The thousand- page plan this June rewriting 40 years of coastal management rules to promote development in shellfish habitat, allow marinas, restaurants and housing in floodplains and aggravate expected damage from climate-induced sea level rise;
- Gutting safeguards and independence of both the Pinelands and Highlands Commissions; and
- Neutering the State Planning Commission, which has not met in months and only sporadically over the last four years, while tossing out the state’s land use plan and replacing it with an economic development strategy.
“It is hard to think of an instance where the Christie administration has opposed any development on the basis of inappropriate land use impacts or has enforced a rule restricting development,” added Wolfe, noting that Christie post-Sandy reconstruction plans epitomize an approach embracing rebuilding in-place even where it puts people and property at greater risk. “Instead, they have systematically scaled back state planning and regulatory policies to stem sprawl.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability