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Smith-Whelan-Greenstein ‘Preserve New Jersey Act Of 2013’ Approved By Senate Environment Committee

Returning members of the State Senate are sworn in

Measures Would Provide 30-Year Stable Funding for Open Space Protection Including Blue Acres Funding for Flood-Prone Properties

TRENTON – Two measures sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee members Bob Smith, Jim Whelan and Linda R. Greenstein that would create a stable source of funding to continue the state’s open space programs were approved today by the Committee.

“Because New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, it is important that we protect the open space we have for the enjoyment and health of future generations,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, Chairman of the Committee. “Throughout the years, residents have overwhelmingly supported open space bonds that provide money for parks, wetlands and farmland. Rather than going back to the voters time after time, asking for additional funding, we can create a constant stream that will ensure the protection of open spaces for decades.”

“In New Jersey, where overdevelopment and sprawl is prominent, it is imperative that we protect open spaces for the enjoyment of our residents,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Without preservation efforts – from green and blue acres to farmland and historic preservation – the temptation to build on undeveloped parcels of land may be tempting for some. This bill is about preserving land which will improve air quality, protect drinking water, provide recreational space and improve the quality of life for New Jersey residents.”

“New Jersey residents recognize the importance of preserving land for open space and recreation, and have demonstrated their support for these efforts by approving numerous referendums over the years for these purposes,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “With this legislation, we will create a consistent funding source that won’t be dependent upon ballot initiatives and bonds. Dedicating state revenue for open space will ensure that there is money available for these projects for years to come.”

The first measure, SCR-138, is a proposed amendment to the State Constitution that would ask voters to dedicate one-fifth of a penny, approximately $200 million, of the sales tax revenue annually for the next 30 years for open space projects including Green and Blue Acres projects, farmland and historic preservation projects. The second measure, S-2529, would implement the constitutional amendment if approved by the voters.

Open space funding goes to acquiring and developing lands for recreation and conservation purposes, preserving farmland and funding historic preservation and Blue Acres projects. Green Acres has protected nearly 640,000 acres of open space in the Garden State since its inception.

In the past, New Jersey voters have funded open space projects through bond acts, approving them by large margins 13 times since 1961. Most recently, New Jersey voters in 2009 approved a $400 million bond act, all of which has now been appropriated. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll, 83 percent of New Jersey residents approve of public funding for open space and preserved farmland.

“Over the years, New Jersey residents have approved bond acts that provide funding for important open space projects. But as we are still struggling to recover from this tough economy, it makes sense to look at ways that we can use already existing revenue to fund these projects,” said Senator Smith.

Open space funding can also be used for Blue Acres projects – a willing seller program that buys flood-prone land and land that buffers or protects other lands from storm damage. The Senators note that long-term funding of this program is even more essential as climate change is causing “100 year storms” to occur at more regular intervals, – such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy – causing increased flooding in New Jersey’s coastal regions.

“Hurricanes Sandy and Irene devastated regions of our state, causing extreme flooding and damage to homes near New Jersey’s shoreline and rivers. Many homeowners in these areas are ready to sell their properties and move to higher ground. This Act sets aside roughly $12 million a year to purchase these homes, providing relief for these families. It is a commonsense approach to flood control that will save homeowners and the state money in the future,” said Senator Whelan.

“Due to the severe weather patterns seen the last few years, many homeowners have decided that the cycle of flooding and rebuilding is no longer worth it, and are searching for a way out,” said Senator Greenstein. “Blue Acres funding provides an excellent avenue for homeowners to rid themselves of flood-prone lands and for communities to increase their open space for public enjoyment.”

Both measures were approved by the Committee with a vote of 4-1. SCR-138 must sit on the Senator’s desks for 20 days for further review.