Something big is about to happen, and it is about to happen in a place where many least expect at. Within the next ten years, I predict that the Hackensack Meadowlands (on land outside of the Arena/Giants Stadium property) will go from being written off as a swampy wasteland and garbage dump site to a nationally and even internationally renowned environmental park.
As a lifelong resident of Bergen County, a former Mayor of Englewood, Bergen County Surrogate, and now a third-term Congressman representing the region which includes the Hackensack Meadowlands, I don’t take pride in the fact that Northeastern New Jersey is wrongly considered by some to be nothing more than an overcrowded urban/suburban landscape across from New York City, pockmarked with toxic Superfund sites and garbage landfills.
We remember that a century ago the Meadowlands was a vast piece of open space spanning 21,000 acres. Today, not too far from the Arena/Giants Stadium property, only 8,400 of those acres remain undeveloped, keeping river water from flooding the streets of surrounding communities. That part of the Meadowlands still supports a diverse and growing concentration of migratory birds and is home to 65 species of nesting birds, and more than 50 species of fish and shellfish.
It is extremely important that the people of Northeastern New Jersey save this last, largest remaining portion of open space and wetlands in the area, clean it up, and turn it back into a magnificent natural, environmental park and quiet recreational preserve – just a stone’s throw from the arena and stadium. Establishing the Meadowlands Environmental Park will provide this and future generations with unparalleled opportunities for eco-canoe tops, nature walks, bird watching, other appropriate recreational activities, and an environmental educational center for our children. All of this will be in the midst of what was once deemed to be a poisoned marshland that was forever unreclaimable. Some may say that this is impossible. I could not disagree more.
It should be made clear that the area in which the environmental park would be located is separate from the Continental Airlines Area and Giants Stadium property. While, as of this writing, we do not know if the private owners of the New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils will move their teams from the Continental Airlines Arena, and while we hope they don’t, we do know that these 8,400 acres of undeveloped open space outside of the Arena/Giants Stadium property are today being threatened with development. And so it is important to create this environmental preserve without delay.
These 8,400 acres are one of the last large and contiguous parcels of open space left in Northeastern New Jersey – smack in the middle of the most densely populated region of the most densely populated state in our country. But this Meadowlands Environmental Park must and will happen.
This park will allow all of our residents to not only enjoy this large expanse of open space that is so rare and precious in our overcrowded region, but it will also give all of us a new and welcome sense of identity. Northeastern New Jerseyeans and our neighbors will see us as proud cohabitants and custodians of a multitude of plant, animal, and aquatic life in our beautiful and fragile local environment.
Concurrently, as these 8,400 acres of the Meadowlands are preserved for present and future generations, any commercial development in the surrounding area should occur on the arena site and other already-developed land and brownfield sites in appropriate Meadowlands parcels outside of these 8,400 acres. Even standing alone, however, it is clear that the region’s businesses and local enterprises will be given a much-needed economic shot-in-the-arm as our new environmental recreation area becomes an attraction for visitors.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have already secured funds for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the best way in which to save the Meadowlands. I have also received financial commitments for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act as an environmental consultant to the Army Corps as they undertake their study, and have already gotten $1.2 million for land acquisition in the Meadowlands, while seeking millions more in the 2003 federal budget. I am also working to secure resources from other existing conservation funds.
For the people of Northeastern New Jersey, such a goal is worthy of our highest and best efforts. We can change our destiny; how we live; how others regard us; and how we regard ourselves. We are already on our way to making this magnificent vision understood and appreciated as being eminently worthwhile and very much achievable. I will continue to work with local citizens and elected officials at every level of government to ensure that this important and truly historic Meadowlands Environmental Park will be a reality.