During this year’s State of the State speech, Governor Corzine stood before both houses of the legislature and spoke about the State’s commitment to open space. He said:
A second topic of vital concern is “open space,” and it’s a tough one. Not because we don’t want it, but because it’s a tough financing issue. Open space preservation has always been one of New Jersey’s priorities and which should be today, and it must be addressed before June 30th. It is my preferred approach that we put in place a long-term funding solution.
That said we need, at a minimum, an interim-bonding question for November’s ballot to extend the financing the voters approved in 2007.
On the face of it this is good news for the State’s open space program as that program is out of money. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Governor committed himself to open space preservation. He has on multiple occasions spoke on his and the State’s commitment to preserving open space. He has not followed through with his commitment. In fact he has on occasion worked against open space funding. In 2007 the legislature was moving strongly on passing legislation that would have created, with voter approval, a long term funding solution for open space. The Governor’s office stopped it and gave us a temporary solution instead, P.L. 2007 Ch. 119. When he signed P.L. 2007 Ch. 119, he promised that he would work with the legislature, during the lame duck session, to put in place a permanent solution. There was no leadership from the Governor’s office and his promise that during Nov and December 2007 a solution would be worked out did not occur.
Then on Sept. 5, 2008, Gov. Corzine issued Executive Order 114 regarding the Highlands. That E.O. provides that:
WHEREAS, in enacting the Highlands Act, the Legislature found and declared that, as a matter of wise public policy and fairness to property owners, a strong and significant commitment by the State is necessary to fund the acquisition of exceptional natural resource value lands; and
WHEREAS, it is vital that the Garden State Preservation Trust be reauthorized and that a statewide transfer of development rights program be considered to meet the open space and agricultural preservation needs of the Highlands Region and the State, and, in part, to address landowner equity issues in the Highlands Region.
Since September there has not been any direction from the Governor’s office on open space funding.
At the beginning of December, the Department of Environmental Protection released its draft Global Warming Response Act Recommendation. The Plan calls for funding of GSPT and calls for the legislature to
Reauthorize the Garden State Preservation Trust, and provide for incentives, technical assistance, and project facilitation, to continue and enhance conservation of the State’s natural assets.
I hope that the cumulative weight of all these promises forces the Governor and the Legislature to act and put in place a permanent solution for open space funding. New Jersey needs to actively preserve open space. Preserving open space is vital to the State of New Jersey for multiple reasons.
Over the last several years, NJ has been loosing open space at a rate of 16,600 acres per year. As we continue to lose space we increase sprawl, increase the time it takes for people to travel from home to work and back again. This increases everyone’s commuter costs and increases the amount of air pollution, including greenhouse gases, we emmitt.
As we continue to develop and put impervious cover over our lands, we diminish our ability to recharge our aquifers. New Jersey relies heavily on aquifers for its drinking water, especially in South Jersey. It is also one of the most important tools for preserving the drinking water from the Highlands, which supplies water to over half of new jerseyans.
As we loose more and more open space, one of our tools to address global warming is lost. From a global warming perspective the “estimated 1.5 million acres –one third of New Jersey’s dry land mass” which has been preserved provides for “substantial amount of carbon storage.” Open space, especially forest, act as a carbon sink.
Open space preservation is also important from an economic perspective. The eco-tourism industry in New Jersey provides close to $3.9 billion in economic benefits. Our natural resources also provide about $19 billion in economic benefits. In a time when property values are decreasing, it has been found that properties in close proximately to open space have a higher value than properties further away. Our open space funds also go to preserving farmland. Open space funds can be used to get people out of the flood plains so that we do not have to rebuild homes that have been destroyed by floods on multiple occasions. Open space is a multifunction tool in our economic engine.
In short, the Governor and the Legislature must keep their promises to putting in place a permanent funding solution for open space. It is too important economically and environmentally for us to allow this promise to be broken again. For more information on the campaign for open space, you can visit the Keep It Green Campaign’s website.