Policing the Peace: Guarini Pushes To Develop Wetlands
Editor’s note: The Star-Ledger and Jersey Journal chose not to run this op/ed piece on the latest threat to wetlands in the Meadowlands. We print it here in its entirety for Tidelines readers.
By Captain Bill Sheehan
Here in the Meadowlands an amazing thing happened on Jan. 8 when the NJ Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) adopted its new Master Plan. As you may know, the plan preserves all of the region’s 8,400 acres of wetlands and waterways and sets the stage for over $5 billion worth of redevelopment projects on existing upland tracts. The plan–a document that is both amazing for its simplicity yet comprehensive in its scope–is agreeable to all the major Meadowlands stakeholders. And that is no small feat.
For years, many of us stakeholders often found ourselves at odds with the NJMC (formally the Hackensack Meadowlands Develop-ment Commission, HMDC) and with each other over the future of the Meadowlands. Environmentalists, local municipalities, the business community, the construction unions, the media and the people on the street all engaged in a low-intensity conflict that often erupted into major battles over such proposals as the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and the “Meadowlands Mills” mall.
“The war is over!” I declared on Jan. 8. “We’re now policing the peace.”
Real compromise, real victory and real Smart Growth; all of it right here in the Meadowlands. Unfortunately, this vision of peace and prosperity–a vision that is shared by the Greater Meadow-lands Chamber of Commerce and the Bergen County Building Trades Council as well as Hackensack Riverkeeper–has one last holdout: former U. S. Congressman Frank Guarini.
Since 1969, Guarini has owned a 94-acre tract of wetlands along Penhorn Creek in North Bergen, during which time the property sat undeveloped despite that for most of the past 34 years, its development would have been supported under the original Master Plan. On Dec. 29, 2003 (just nine days before the new Master Plan was approved) Guarini’s attorney Kevin Coakley submitted an application to sell the tract for development.
Although the property is listed as a Priority Wetland Acquisition Site by the NJMC, Guarini would rather sell it to the NY Susquehanna and Western Railroad (NYS&W) and see it turned into a truck and rail yard. Rather than accept a generous offer from the NJMC to purchase the wetlands for conservation (which would net the 80-year-old multimillionaire a sizable profit), Guarini and Coakley stand alone, unwilling to accept the fact that the rules have changed and that the days of filling wetlands are over.
Coakley recently accused the NJMC of attempting an unfair taking of the Guarini Tract. He’s wrong. The NJMC has a mandate to acquire all wetlands tracts for inclusion in the soon-to-be created Meadowlands Estuary Preserve and they are doing so the old-fashioned way: by purchasing them. Some have suggested that Guarini and Coakley have no realistic expectation of closing the sale with the NYS&W and are actually using the application process to drive up the price the NJMC will ultimately have to pay for the wetlands.
In addition to the preservation of wetlands, it is abundantly clear that the prevailing winds of change are moving in favor of regional land use planning in New Jersey. That makes the position taken by the former public servant and his attorney hypocritical as well as greed-driven. Prior to his service in the US Congress, Guarini served in the NJ Senate from 1965 to 1972 – pivotal years when the NJMC was created and regional planning dawned in our state. He, more than anyone else, should know better, but has chosen instead to ignore what’s best for New Jersey. It’s time for Gov. McGreevey and the Smart Growth team to fend off this final assault and finish the job of preserving our precious Meadowlands.
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