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CITY OF JERSEY CITY v. HODEL

June 8, 1989

CITY OF JERSEY CITY; AMERICAN LITTORAL SOCIETY; NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL LOBBY; and NEW JERSEY PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
DONALD P. HODEL, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR; WILLIAM P. MOTT, JR., DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE; JAMES W. COLEMAN, JR., REGIONAL DIRECTOR, MID-ATLANTIC REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE; LIBERTY STATE PARK DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION; and WATERFRONT DEVELOPERS CORPORATION, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SAROKIN

 In this action for declaratory and injunctive relief and to mandate and compel the Secretary of the Interior of the United States of America to enforce the requirements of United States Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 4601-4 et seq. ("Conservation Act"), defendants move to dismiss the complaint. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("NJDEP") has moved to intervene in this action, and plaintiffs have cross-moved for permission to take depositions and discovery of various, undesignated public officials. None of the parties have opposed the NJDEP's request to intervene, and the court will grant this motion as unopposed.

 INTRODUCTION

 Liberty State Park was acquired and improved largely through federal funds. It was established as a recreational oasis in a highly congested area at one of the most unique and symbolic locations in this country -- facing the Statue of Liberty. Its acquisition and development were meant to preserve the open space, the vistas, and the tranquility of this rare parkland.

 Plaintiffs seek to enjoin the construction of a private marina, to be operated for profit, encompassing fifty acres on the northern portion of the park. The sole issue now before the court is not whether the proposed marina violates the grant by which the park was established and constitutes a conversion of its authorized use, but whether that issue is now ripe for determination. No final decision having been made by the National Park Service, the court concludes that judicial intervention at this stage would be premature, and therefore inappropriate. However, the court finds it difficult to understand why the appropriate federal agencies cannot determine whether a marina of the type proposed is or is not a permissible use of the park without the need for further detailed and specific studies and the delays incident thereto. Certainly by now they should be able to determine the threshold question of whether they will or will not permit a private marina at this location, so that all interested parties, those in favor of and those opposed to the project, can be guided accordingly.

 The issue has been squarely presented: Should a large portion of this park, built in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, be devoted to mooring the boats of an affluent few or be preserved for the enjoyment of the huddled masses?

 BACKGROUND

 This controversy has arisen over the development of Liberty State Park, which is located within the city of Jersey City in Hudson County, New Jersey. The dispute involves local, state, and federal agencies and officials, as well as corporate entities who have agreed to develop the park land and several public interest groups representing thousands of New Jersey citizens who oppose the planned development. Briefly stated, plaintiffs challenge a proposed marina project which defendants plan to construct in and around the northern embankment of the park, arguing that the marina constitutes an unauthorized conversion under the Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 4601-8(f).

 Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("Complaint") alleges the following:

 The property upon which Liberty State Park now sits was purchased, improved and beautified with financial and other assistance provided in large part by the federal government, pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Conservation Act. Id. at 5. Beginning in 1980, the United States Department of the Interior and the National Park Service ("NPS") furnished approximately ten million dollars to the State of New Jersey for the acquisition of over three hundred acres of public parklands at Liberty State Park, including lands in the northern embankment, to be used as open greenspace and for public recreation. Id. at 18. Millions of additional dollars were furnished by the United States beginning in 1981, for the purposes of providing landscaping for open greenspace and lawns and for building promenades and walkway improvements to aid in the public's enjoyment of the scenic location. Id. at 31. The above financial assistance was furnished on the condition that the acquired and improved parklands would thereafter be used only for "open, public, passive recreation uses such as walking, jogging, picnicking, and enjoying the panoramic vistas and visual beauty of the New Jersey and New York Harbor and skyline," and that they would remain uncluttered by large on-land structures or "private restricted enclaves." Id. at 19-20.

 In addition, the federal funds were furnished on the condition that such parklands would be used in accordance with and to achieve the goals of the New Jersey State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan ("SCORP"). Id. at 21. SCORP outlines New Jersey's severe deficit of open areas for public recreation and labels seventy-five percent of the Hudson County population as being recreationally disadvantaged and in serious need of open greenspace for public recreation. Id. at 22. Under the terms of the federal grant to finance the acquisition and development of Liberty State Park land, future park uses were also required to comply with the final 1978 Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") issued by the Department of the Interior, which emphasized the need to provide lower-income groups in Hudson County with an urban park containing open, public recreation space. Id. at 25.

 Since the acquisition of the parklands comprising Liberty State Park, the fifty-acre north embankment area has been developed and for a number of years has been used by the public exclusively for open greenspace for passive recreation including walking, jogging, picnicking, and enjoying the vistas and sights of the harbor and New York skyline. Id. at 27, 34.

 The Complaint further alleges that the state of New Jersey has entered into a long-term lease with defendant Liberty State Development Corporation ("the Development Corporation"), a non-profit corporation, for lands at the northern portions of Liberty State Park, and that pursuant to this lease the Development Corporation plans to implement the construction of a marina complex on the fifty-acre north embankment area. Id. at 75-76, 78. To implement its plan, the Development Corporation has entered into a sublease agreement with defendant Waterfront Developers Corporation ("Waterfront"), a commercial, for-profit corporation, for the construction and operation of the proposed marina complex. Id. at 77, 79. The ...


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