#Fall colors in the #PineBarrens can rival any #NewEngland scene. #NJstateparks #native #nature #beauty #autumn
(Note: The author of this letter – a New Jersey DEP employee with a thorough knowledge of the fiscal impact of SCR84 on NJ State Parks and Historic Sites – has ask to remain anonymous.)
I ask that you read this email so you might fully understand the potential impacts of a ballot initiative that NJ voters are being asked to consider on Election Day this year (November 4th). It’s long, but hang in there….
The ballot question will ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment which would provide funding dedicated to the state-wide Green Acres Program (SCR84). The NJ Keep It Green Coalition, environmental groups, and several politicians are heavily backing this ballot question and really getting the word out to have people approve it, so much so they have hired a lobbying firm to convince people to vote “yes” on it. Traditionally, all ballot questions pertaining to open space have passed in NJ. Normally, I would be one of the people voting yes. But not this year. If this amendment passes, it could spell the death knell to NJ State Parks & Historic Sites. Think I’m being dramatic? Here is the full impact of voting “yes” on this ballot question will have on NJ State Parks & Historic Sites that people aren’t talking about:
First, a little history….
Back in 2006, voters were asked to approve, and overwhelming did, a constitutional amendment that authorized 15% of corporate business tax (CBT) funds to assist NJ State Parks & Historic sites with major deferred maintenance known as capital projects. Ok, so what’s that? Capital projects are large projects as traditional as restrooms, roadways, bridges for trails, picnic pavilions, and overnight camping cabins and as complex as full restoration and conservation projects of historic sites, the building of new visitor centers, stabilization of bulkheads, etc. This was to help with the more than $400 million backlog in projects at NJ Historic Sites. The backlog was due to sporadic (at best) to zero capital funding given to State Parks as part of their budget for years and years. Between the State Park Service and the Division of Fish & Wildlife, there are over 1900 buildings they are responsible for maintaining and over 1,500 miles of public roads and trails. That does not include bridges, dams, and other structures. And year after year, the state budget did not adequately supply the funds to care for them. The amendment passed in 2006 addressed this and gave a stable source of funding for major project.
You can read more about this money, and what it has been used for since then, at this website: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/cbt/index.html Remember, that 15% is about $15 million each year….to be used on projects found throughout the state at all NJ State Parks & Historic Sites. There is a very large waiting list on major capital projects. As part of the way the 2006 amendment read, a boost to that funding is slated for next year, increasing to about $32 million, which would really assist in the management of our beloved State parks and historic sites.
The money is desperately needed because the amount of visitation these sites have seen over the last ten year has increased dramatically, while infrastructure has continued to fail. Staffing levels have dropped to new lows because of retirements and attrition, while the amount of property and buildings the State Park Service is responsible for has only increased. With reduced staffing, you have less people to do basic maintenance to structures, which eventually turns into larger, more complex needs, which capital funding would address. And major natural disasters like Hurricane Irene & Sandy pummeled NJ State Parks & Historic Sites, requiring immediate repairs to buildings and bulkheads (think of the damage to the historic Liberty State Park terminal building or Island Beach State Park). Capital funding was funneled to these projects so that the parks could be reopened to the public, while the State continues to wait for FEMA reimbursements. Thus, other capital projects have been put completely on hold. I think you all get the idea. Our state-owned parks & historic sites require a lot of upkeep and maintenance, but it’s all for the public! It’s all so people can come and visit these places and enjoy everything the state has to offer! Staff want visitors to have the very best experience they can when they visit and offer as many opportunities for outdoor recreation and historic and natural education as possible! We live for this stuff, but funding and staffing continue to be a challenge.
Now a little history on the Garden State Preservation Trust and the Green Acres Program…
Green Acres is a terrific program. Truly it is and I do love open space and the fact that my fellow New Jerseyans care about open space and preservation. But here is the problem: Green Acres is allocated monies to purchase open space, historic sites, farmlands, and blue acres (flood zone) structures. After they purchase these things, they give them over to others to manage and administer. Very, very often, these properties are given to…who else? NJ State Parks and the Division of Fish & Wildlife. But these parks and wildlife management areas are not given funding for the maintenance and upkeep of these sites nor are they given additional staffing to administer them! The amount of acreage some state parks manage has gotten absurd! Ringwood State Park alone manages over 40,000 acres spread over 4 counties and 17 (!!) towns. Some of the property it manages is more than 45 minutes away by car from the main office! Whoa! And the thing that really stings is that when a really amazing property is being offered for purchase by Green Acres, more and more we find that we are appealing to them to not purchase them because we are barely able to take care of what we currently have.
From 1999 to 2006, $235.8 million in Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) local and nonprofit development funding was awarded and spent on grants in municipalities and counties. During that same time, only $50 million was available to the State Park Service and the Division of Fish & Wildlife. To be fair and in the interest of full disclosure, $10 million of that $50 million came from the GSPT, while the remaining $40 million came from state budget appropriations. So you might be thinking, “Wait. Those grants are available for open space and historic preservation, too.” But guess what? They are not available to any state-owned entities. Those wonderful NJ Historic Trust Grants? Not available to state-owned historic sites. Those open space and recreation grants? Also not available to state-owned properties. Our non-profit friends groups can apply for them, but there is a matching component and often non-profits do not have the ability to raise 5 or 6 figures to match a capital grant. So often county and local parks, recreation facilities, and historic sites are better managed and maintained then our state ones!
Now finally onto the BIG problem with the current ballot initiative (SCR84) and why I’m writing this email…
I said earlier that if voters approve the measure, it would could be the death of state-owned parks & historic sites. Here’s why: the amendment as currently written would completely strip NJ State Parks & Historic Sites of their current ability to fund capital projects. I’m going to repeat that: NJ State Parks would have NO funding to do any capital projects and there is no current plan to fund them. Parks wouldn’t be getting that $32 million next year, they wouldn’t be getting that $15 million. They would be getting zero. That money from the CBT fund? It would be completely diverted to the Green Acres and the GSPT.
Let’s for a minute contemplate the craziness of it all: first, we can’t take care of what we already own, but would be buying up land and structures with no real plan or funding source to take care of them. Second, we barely have enough staff to run what we already own. And finally, two departments (Parks and Green Acres) within the same agency (Department of Environmental Protection) are being pitted against one another. Vote yes, and state parks and historic sites take a huge hit. Vote no, Green Acres is not funded.
Don’t believe me? You can take a look at these sites to confirm what I am saying. There’s always a very vague statement about ending the CBT funding to “environmental programs,” but never a full explanation of what that means:
I, personally, am voting no.
It’s time that we start taking care of what we, as citizens, already own. We also need to start looking more critically at the properties that are being purchased and the value of them to existing parks, natural features and wildlife, and to private homeowners. But it’s up to you to decide for yourself. Read the information, do more research, and figure out what you think. I’d tell you to write your legislators, but since this is up to the voters, the only good writing your local representatives will do will help make them aware of your knowledge of this huge bungle and hopefully encourage them to start better funding State Parks & Historic Sites in the state budget. You can find your legislators by clicking here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp You can then search for your town, which is listed in alphabetical order, on the right side. It will show you who your local representatives are, and usually they even have an email listed. Send them a short note saying you think this ballot initiative is bad and that they need to support the state parks and historic sites in your district!
Feel free to also forward this to friends, family, and like-minded individuals that might be interested in this information. And if you don’t live in the state, but have others that do, feel free to send it to them! You may not be able to vote on this, but they can!
One final word: local media has not picked up on this at all. Should you choose to make them aware of the potential consequences of the vote by forwarding this information to them, I’d ask that you please remove my name from this email. I obviously am sending this on my personal time, from my personal email account, from my personal computer, from my own home! It’s my personal opinion! But I would prefer that my name not be attached to this information should it end up in a newspaper, blog, or social media. Copying and pasting into something new would be much appreciated!
Thanks so much for reading this LONG email!
For Immediate Release
September 26, 2014
Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100
LCV-Genting Green Scam
Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, released the following statement on the New York League of Conservation Voters Environmental Leadership Award being given to Genting Americas in November:
“Giving Genting an environmental award is a green scam. It is like Weight Watches giving Ben and Jerry’s an award for dieting. Putting a massive development in the middle of a park is not a green development and it is not environmentally sound. This is shameful green cover for a terrible project in the middle of New Jersey’s water supply. NY LCV is helping to put a dagger in Sterling Forest. The only thing green about the development is the money Genting is going to get from gamblers.”
"Will the NJ League of Conservation Voters denounce this outrageous scam and green cover? Is NY LCV the ‘League of Corporate Vultures.’”
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Sierra Club
dropspaghetti made me photoshop this.
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