The approval yesterday of $123 million for Green Acres and Blue Acres will help New Jersey save open space and buy out flood prone properties. However this may be the last big appropriation for a long time as these programs are running out of money.
This is almost all we have left from the 2009 Bond Act. The amount of money we spend per year has dropped by half and we are going to run out. From fiscal years 1998 through 2008 the Garden State Preservation Trust including Green Acres averaged $235 million a year. We are now averaging around half of that. 60 percent of the Garden State Preservation Trust goes to Green Acres acquisitions. In 2005 the Garden State Preservation Trust spent $344 million, a high point. This year’s funding is approximately $123 million and with only $129 million left in the entire fund. The administration is expected to commit the rest of the money in the beginning of next year.
During the period from 1998 to 2008 Green Acres alone averaged 21,000 acres per year, now we are buying less than half of that. There is more than $500 million in back log to match money being put up by local governments to buy open space. We are losing between 15,000 and 20,000 acres to development each year, while we are only purchasing 10,000 acres of open space per year. We have seen sprawl turn the nurseries and flower farms along the Route 1 Corridor into office parks and shopping malls.
We need a long term stable source of funding for open space acquisitions. We shouldn’t be bonding anymore we need pay as you go, which needs to come from a new sources such as a water surcharge so we do not cut environmental programs. We can’t keep going from bond to bust. The most popular programs in state’s history will be coming to an end unless we find a stable source of funding. If that happens, more land will be lost to development and sprawl. This is the best time to be buying open space when prices are low. We may not get this opportunity for another generation.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.