Thursday, September 1, 2016

NJ Open Space advocates see $70M for projects in 2017

Senator Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, talks during a State House news conference in Trenton on Wednesday about the passage of the Preserve New Jersey Act, which specifies how Open Space funds approved by voters in 2014 are to be distributed.

John C. Ensslin of the Record's State House Bureau reports:

 The advocates gathered with lawmakers at the State House Wednesday to celebrate passage of the “Preserve New Jersey Act” which specifies how open space revenues approved by the voters in a 2014 constitutional amendment should be divided up.

“It also does something incredibly important by removing us from the boom and bust cycle that we’ve seen for so many years...and allows us to have regular, reliable and transparent funding,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of Keep It Green, a coalition of groups that pushed for the legislation.

A constitutional amendment was approved by the voters in 2014 that set aside four percent of the state’s corporate business tax revenue for open space purposes, but there were disputes over how the money should be spent.

Mooij said that under the bill about $70.8 million that will go to the Garden State Preservation Trust in 2017.

Of that amount, 60 percent or about $42.5 million will go toward Green Acres projects such as acquiring and developing open space. Another 31 percent or about $21.9 million will go toward farmland preservation and stewardship programs.

Five percent or about $3.5 million will go toward historic preservation while four percent or about $2.8 million will for blue acres projects in which flood prone buildings are purchased, demolished and turned back into open space.

The bill was a last minute compromise reached just as the Senate was prepared to override Christie’s earlier conditional veto of the measure.

Instead both the Senate and Assembly approved a revised bill that included the Blue Acres funding on June 27 and Christie signed it three days later.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said the law represents an important moment in the push for open space in New Jersey.

“I hope everybody realizes the really historic nature of this,” Smith said. “A stable source of funding for open space has been the holy grail of the environmental movement in New Jersey for the past 10 years.”

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