March 5, 2018 – Preservation New Jersey’s Director, Courtenay Mercer, testified before the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee today regarding A2970, which establishes Commission on State-owned Historic Sites in Department of State, transfers administration of State-owned historic sites to commission, and transfers historic preservation programs from DEP to Department of State.
Founded in 1978, Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) advocates for and promotes historic preservation as a sustainable strategy to protect and enhance the vitality and heritage of New Jersey’s richly diverse communities. PNJ is a statewide non-profit organization with members from the development communities, architecture and planning professions, historians, and enthusiastic residents.
We understand that A2970 is intended to improve the management and maintenance of our precious historic resources owned by the State of NJ. We are concerned that as proposed, however, A2970 will result in unnecessary redundancy and confusion in the management of these sites.
We agree that many State-owned historic sites flounder for lack of financial and human resources to properly maintain and manage them. There is also a lack of comprehensive and cohesive oversight, with the administration of many sites falling to Park Superintendents that may have limited resources and/or knowledge to properly maintain, manage, and program them. We, therefore, do not oppose the concept of a Commission that would formalize a structure of oversight. Any Commission, however, should also be provided with sufficient staff to coordinate and oversee the government and non-profit entities tasked with managing these sites.
PNJ does not believe, however, that moving the management of the State’s historic sites out of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is prudent. The DEP has the experience and resources (however limited) to maintain, manage, and police property, while the Department of State does not currently have the infrastructure necessary for such an undertaking. Further, many state-owned historic sites are located within State Parks and Forests, some of which even serve as park offices. It is impractical and unnecessarily duplicative for two agencies to be tasked with maintaining and managing a single place. Moreover, it is our understanding that the costs of maintaining, policing, and managing State-owned historic sites are included in the general funds of the Parks & Forestry; but, particularly in the case of sites within State Parks, there is not a specific line item for each site. Accordingly, determining a proper reallocation of DEP funds to go to the Department of State will be problematic. Moreover, given the location of many sites within lands maintained by Parks & Forestry staff, 1) either the Department of State will hire additional staff to maintain and police properties, which could be done by existing Parks & Forestry staff; thus increasing overall costs and reducing efficiency; or 2) the Department of State will contract with Parks & Forestry to maintain the sites; which begs the question for the move in the first place. Instead of creating another level of bureaucracy and complexity to managing State-owned properties, we ask that the Legislature consider fixing the existing structure within DEP through allocation of additional staff and financial resources, as well as refining the management structure for oversight of State-owned historic sites. There are models throughout the country that could serve as examples to a restructuring of our current system that would prove less disruptive and potentially detrimental to the ongoing maintenance, policing, and management of our State-owned historic resources.
PNJ is further concerned that moving the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) from DEP to the Department of State will create additional unnecessary redundancy and may even hinder its ability to perform its duties effectively. The DEP has vast experience administering federal grant money, enabling them to effectively manage the State’s access to and use of these critical funds. Finally, the federal government has delegated responsibility for maintaining an inventory of historic sites to the SHPO, which is maintained using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The DEP has advanced and robust GIS capabilities, while the Department of State has little experience or resources dedicated to GIS mapping. Ultimately, we fear that moving the SHPO to a Department without the existing infrastructure to support their administrative tasks will hamper its ability to effectively protect the State’s historic resources.
We thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns with Assembly Bill 2970 as proposed. We ask that the Legislature explore other opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness in maintaining and managing our State-owned historic resources within the DEP, and welcome the opportunity to work with you in achieving this goal. Please do not hesitate to contact our Director, Courtenay Mercer, […] with questions.
In addition to Ms. Mercer, Cate Litvack, President of The Advocates for NJ History, and Eldridge Hawkins, Director of Policy, Operations, & Governmental Affairs in the Department of State testified in opposition to the legislation. The Committee voted to release A2970 out of Committee with assurances that it would not be posted until the sponsor met with stakeholders to address their concerns.