Governor's Action Called First Step Toward Preserving 'Urban Everglades'
Hackensack, NJ (March 20, 2001) - Leaders of the Hackensack Meadowlands Partnership today praised New Jersey Governor DiFrancesco for effectively ending a plan to fill 206 acres of wetlands to construct a mega mall in the Hackensack Meadowlands. The project, proposed by the Virginia-based Mills Corporation, has long been opposed by environmentalists and community groups concerned about the loss of wetlands, noise, increased traffic and accident rates, air pollution and additional flooding in communities already besieged by floods.
"With today's announcement, Governor DiFrancesco has taken a courageous first step toward saving this invaluable natural resource," said Andrew Willner, NY/NJ Baykeeper. "The next step -- and the only lasting way to preserve these 'urban Everglades' -- is to declare the Hackensack Meadowlands a protected wildlife preserve," he said.
"With the Governor's support, we can save one of the most important and vulnerable wetlands in the nation, protect the area's endangered bird species and offer much-needed access to nature for millions of people in the surrounding urban area," said Carolyn Summers, director of NRDC's Harbor Bight Project.
Nearly three quarters of what was once 21,000 acres of wetlands and open water in the Meadowlands has been lost to development. All the pertinent federal and state regulatory agencies have now opposed the plan for this site, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. EPA has designated the remaining Hackensack Meadowlands as a National Priority Wetlands Site, meaning it is one of the most important wetlands in the nation and deserving of protection. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified these wetlands as part of a "Regionally Significant Habitat Complex."
"The Clean Water Act specifically prohibits projects like the proposed mall that would have a significant impact on the marine environment and can be readily accommodated elsewhere," said Edward Lloyd, director of the Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic.
"If permitted, the proposed wetlands fill would be the largest for a non-government project east of the Mississippi River since the passage of the Clean Water Act," said Captain Bill Sheehan, executive director of the Hackensack Riverkeeper.
Despite years of dumping and other environmentally degrading practices, the Meadowlands support important habitat for more than thirteen state-listed endangered and threatened bird species -- all public trust resources that New Jersey is required to protect. The wetlands also act to control flooding by absorbing floodwaters and releasing them slowly. "By destroying hundreds of acres of wetlands, the mall would have presented a nuisance to surrounding communities, increasing flood damage to neighboring properties," said Jim Tripp, General Counsel of Environmental Defense.
The Hackensack Meadowlands Partnership is a coalition of environmental, community, business, and political leaders advocating preservation of the Meadowlands as a wildlife refuge. The principals include NY/NJ Baykeeper, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Rutgers and Columbia University Environmental Law Clinics, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Environmental Defense.