More than $121 million in new open space, farmland and historic preservation grants were approved by the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) on Friday, the penultimate step in a long process of getting money flowing to scores of worthwhile land acquisition, recreational development and farmland and historic preservation projects throughout the state.
The action by the Trust, a governing body that includes independent public members, directs money to open space, capital projects, park development, blue acres, farmland and historic preservation and stewardship projects recommended by various state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture’s State Agriculture Development Committee and the New Jersey Historic Trust, which is housed in the Department of Community Affairs. The move also re-establishes New Jersey as a leader in open space preservation, following a gap in allocations of more than two years.
"The awarding of these grants is a hard-fought victory for open space advocates, who led the campaign for permanent, stable open space funding in 2014 then for legislation releasing the money," said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of Keep It Green, the state’s largest coalition of conservation, park, agriculture and historic preservation organizations. "It’s very gratifying to see the realization of the voters’ will with the GSPT approvable of the first allocation from this new, sustainable funding stream."
Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question in November 2014 directing a portion of business tax revenue to open space preservation. The first-ever long-term funding measure was approved by 65 percent of voters and passed in all 21 counties. It was the 14th open space ballot initiative approved by New Jersey voters dating back to the 1960s.
This funding round includes appropriations of $59.5 million based on recommendations from the DEP’s Office of Green Acres: $26.5 million for state land acquisition, $26.5 million for capital projects including recreation and stewardship in state parks and wildlife refuges, and $6.4 million for Blue Acres buyouts of flood-prone properties. Additionally, nearly $3 million was approved for the state Historic Trust Office, which plans to disperse grants of $3,200 to $150,000 to 25 projects. Lastly, GSPT approved an expansive $58.7 package of funding recommended by the Agriculture Development Committee, including planning and incentive grants for counties, towns and nonprofits.
"The action by GSPT jumpstarts acquisition, preservation, capital improvement and stewardship projects that have been delayed for years because of a lack of funding," said Ed Potosnak, chairman of Keep It Green. "With additional awards being made later this year to municipalities and nonprofits, we will continue the proud legacy of preservation in New Jersey."
Applications for additional Green Acres funds are continuing to be accepted through Feb. 15, 2017 for eligible counties, municipalities and nonprofits for local park development, land acquisition and stewardship. An anticipated $67.4 million in grants is available.