By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The purchase agreement for nine miles of an abandoned rail line that runs from Montclair to Jersey City for the creation of the new Essex Hudson Greenway has been extended five months, to June 30. 

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Open Space Institute’s exclusive purchase rights for the 135 linear acres, granted by Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation, had been set to expire on Jan. 31. State officials announced in November New Jersey would purchase the property through eight towns, including Montclair, to set it aside as a recreational bike and walking trail.

On Monday, Feb. 7, the three organizations announced that the purchase “requires a level of complex title research, legal and survey work meriting an extension,” according to a statement from public relations agency EFK to Montclair Local.

EFK has not yet responded to a Feb. 7 email from Montclair Local asking who had been contracted for the title search, surveying or legal work in connection to the purchase, the cost of those services or how it was being funded. 

In 2019, a preliminary purchase and sale agreement of $65 million for the property was reached with Norfolk Southern after the federal Surface Transportation Board approved the rail company’s formal abandonment of the line. The agreement gave the Open Space Institute the exclusive rights to the purchase of the property. 

Then in November of last year, the Open Space Institute announced that a deal was struck with the state to create the Greenway, marking it the single largest state-funded land protection project in New Jersey history. 

Under the agreement, the state of New Jersey will purchase 135 acres of the former Boonton rail line from Norfolk Southern Railway for $65 million. 

The line closed in 2002 after the completion of the Montclair Connection at the Bay Street train station. 

“The three organizations are continuing to work in a collaborative manner to complete the necessary transaction that will set the stage for the next phase of this exciting project, which is expected to include community outreach, design, and planning.  When completed, this historic project will enrich communities in Essex and Hudson counties, the state and the region — serving as a hub for ecotourism and unlocking the potential for even greater transit and environmental infrastructure improvements,” the Feb. 7 statement from EFK said.

In 2014, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition adopted the Greenway campaign, then known as the Ice & Iron Greenway. The group later partnered with the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance and the OSI.

New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition Executive Director Debra Kagan previously told Montclair Local the project would mitigate flooding with the creation of a stormwater overflow system, and would reduce greenhouse gases by providing safe alternative means of transportation. With subterranean rights that would come with the purchase, more internet connectivity could be created to increase digital access, she said.

The rail line property — spanning Jersey City, Secaucus, Kearny, Newark, Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Montclair — “will bring greater open space access to one of the most urban and populated regions in the nation at a time when the pandemic has reinforced both the merits and need for equitable access to parks and open space,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a November release announcing the purchase.

The Department of Environmental Protection has been charged with the design and construction of the new Greenway, Murphy said.

The project has also received $4 million in funding from the Thomas Kempner Jr. Foundation, the Helen and the William Mazer Foundation and the Partners for Health Foundation, Open Space Institute President and CEO Kim Elliman said. Those funds have covered permits, studies and community outreach.