An active, fully budgeted State Natural Resource Damages (NRD) program is one of the greatest tools available for revitalizing urban natural lands and parks in New Jersey. NRD settlements result when polluting industries are induced to pay to repair the damaged environment and compensate the public for the lost use of natural resources. Keep in mind polluters pay these settlements in addition to much higher clean-up costs.
John Martins and the Hudson Reporter deserve praise for reporting accurately on this complex issue, while many other media have confused the terms and the intent of NRD. We share with others concerns that polluters should pay higher damage amounts, but background is needed to understanding how recent noteworthy settlements were achieved. The McGreevey Administration deserves great credit for bringing this program to life against great industry and political opposition. During the Whitman years NRD program budgets were kept tiny and corporate lobbyists got to the legislature and made collection for damages possible only through litigation. Therefore, it would now take costly attorney fees paid by tax dollars, more staff and strong political will to collect payments rightfully due to the public. Game over?
No! The Governor, NJDEP Commissioner Brad Campbell and Attorney General Peter Harvey, through a determined common sense approach, have started hurdling these roadblocks. They shifted resources to NRD, and hired a top private attorney who takes a portion of successful law suits rather than tax dollars. Then offered industry a chance to come in without a legal fight and get a fair deal, or the State will come after you hard.
After decades of delay they have brought in $24 million quickly – with more coming. By law these funds should be directed to locally impacted areas through projects linked to improving environmental damages that were incurred. Of the recent $17 million chromium settlement, some will go to wetland restoration at Liberty State Park, some to other projects in Jersey City and the County. There is also potential for parkland acquisition matches for the newly passed Hudson County Open Space Trust.
Liberty Park is an ideal NRD site because it suffered damages from chromium contamination, restoration will improve ground water (a resource damaged by chromium contamination), funds from the state will be matched with twice that amount from a federal match, and thousands of people from Hudson County and around New Jersey strongly support this project. Thanks again to the Governor Commissioner and Attorney General for taking actions that speak much louder than words.
Rather thank knocking the Governor’s good work for political gain within Hudson County, we should all be watch-dogging the more tangible threat of agencies, politicians and country club conservationists who are already trying to divert these NRD funds for wasteful pet projects or to take it outside of Hudson County.
Preservation Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper,
President, Liberty State Park Conservancy