SJEJA – Petty's Island Initiative

Petty’s Island is located in the Delaware north of East Camden

Petty’s Island is an island in the Delaware river off the coast of Camden City (see map), yet it is technically part of Pennsauken. Citgo Petroleum, which owns the island of 390+ acres with a defunct oil terminal and an active shipping firm, wants to give the site to the State of New Jersey. Jack McCrossin, a company spokesperson, said the firm wants to do an environmental clean-up and have the island preserved as a wildlife habitat. But, the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust (McGreevey Administration) blocked the gift (New York Times, 10/2/04) and sided with developers and Pennsauken officials who have unveiled a $1.3 billion plan to put luxury homes and a golf course on the island. (This plan has been scaled down since then. See, “Petty’s Island plan cuts land use in half,” Courier Post, 3/22/07)

Thus, Petty’s Island has been a contested battleground between Pennsauken township and environmentalists, who want it preserved. SJEJA and other environmental groups are advocating the State to take Citgo up on their offer to preserve. A huge array of wildlife was found on the island, including a bald eagle; this lends credence to the argument that this wildlife needs to be preserved, particularly when we have so little open space left in New Jersey. It could become a wonderful destination for school children and eco tourists to learn about South Jersey’s wildlife in its natural habitat. The island could become a environmental refuge for visitors with board walks, nature signs and naturalist’s educating us on the ecosystem we are all part of. Another recreational use would be bicycle and roller skating paths around the island which would give families and nature lovers enjoyment of the outdoors as well as exercise. But, there is another reason why this small island should be preserved for the public.

The Camden City African American Commission uncovered evidence that the island has a rich and diverse history. For example, Petty’s Island had been an early Native American settlement, the location where the German Charitable Society, founded in 1764, held a lottery to raise money for poor German immigrants in 1773, and most importantly, records revealed that the island had been a 17th century slave depot. The Commission argues that Petty’s Island should become a historical landmark in addition to the wildlife refuge and has filed and application for Petty’s Island to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the help of Scribe, the Camden City African American Commission produced a documentary about the history of Petty’s Island as part of Scribe’s Precious Places Community History Project.
The 15 min. film is narrated by distinguished actor and social activist, Danny Glover.

Petty’s Island: An Untold History


The new documentary, “Petty’s Island: The Untold Story,” was produced by the Camden City African American Commission and the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia as part of Scribe’s Precious Places Community History Project.

“Petty’s Island” reveals a number of forgotten chapters in this little island’s history. Petty’s Island, now a defunct oil depot owned by Citgo Corporation, had been an early Native American settlement and was used in the 17th century as depot for enslaved Africans.

Although slavery in the North was less prominent, the documentary shows convincingly that slavery existed during the 17th century in Pennsylvania and trading links often had slavery connections. The traders brought their slaves to Petty’s Island instead of Philadelphia to avoid having to pay taxes.

Danny Glover with Mangaliso Davis


The film debut took place at the International House in Philadelphia on February 15, 2007 and was shown again at the Walt Whitman Center in Camden on February 20th.
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Walt Whitman Center for the Arts

V. I. P.s at the Petty’s Island film debut

>>> watch and listen to “All men are created equal” — mpg file, 19 MB, 54 sec. (Real Player)

By LAVINIA DeCASTRO (Courier Post, December 15, 2004)

Camden Community leaders join environmentalists in their fight against development of Petty’s Island in Pennsauken.

During a news conference at Camden’s Pyne Poynt Park, directly across from the densely wooded southern end of the 392-acre island, the activists announced they will file an application this week to have the island listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

SJEJA activists fighting for Petty’s Island

Pennsauken officials have been pushing for a billion-dollar revitalization project on the island. The proposed project includes homes, a hotel and golf course.

“I know that a lot of our opponents have said that Petty’s Island has no historic significance, but we differ on that,” said Mangaliso Davis, a Camden resident and member of the commission.

Members of the African American Commission and South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance said historic documents show that after the Native Americans who lived there sold the island to European settlers, slavers used it as a trading post.

“They would come here to buy the slaves at an auction and then transport them to Philadelphia,” said Roy Jones, a Camden resident and the alliance’s co-chairman. Holding copies of signs that advertised such auctions, the activists said traders avoided paying taxes by selling their slaves at Petty’s Island instead of Philadelphia.

“This is the first we’ve heard of any historic significance to Petty’s Island,” Pennsauken Mayor Rick Taylor said. “I’d like to see that documented.” Richard Ochab, spokesman for developer Cherokee Pennsauken, said: “Calls to place Petty’s Island on the National Historic Registry are recent and premature.” Ochab said a historical analysis of the site is under way as a standard part of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting process. “Any site worthy of designation will be identified during the NJDEP’s well-established redevelopment and permitting process,” Ochab said.

Sharon Finlayson, chairwoman of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said environmentalists have collected more than 3,000 signatures in a petition to preserve the island. The island’s owner, CITGO Petroleum Corp., offered to donate Petty’s Island to the state as a nature preserve to protect a pair of nesting bald eagles and other wildlife. But the state’s Natural Lands Trust effectively rejected the offer on Sept. 30. “These eagles are protected,” said Robert Shinn, a representative of the Cooper River Watershed Association. “We’re concerned that of they develop this island, it will chase these eagles away.”

Last month, a U.S. District judge ordered CITGO to allow Cherokee Pennsauken, the township’s redevelopment agent, access to the island to begin environmental surveys preceding either a negotiated sale or condemnation of the island to make way for the project. Davis and Jones said houses built at Petty’s Island would sell for more than $250,000, creating an upscale community within a stone’s throw from one of the nation’s most impoverished cities.

“This would be basically a gated community,” Jones said. “The working class people of Camden and the working class people of Pennsauken will not be able to afford to live on this island. These communities are largely Hispanic and black, so effectively, they’re excluding people of color.”

But Taylor said the plan includes more than just high-end housing. Developers also want to include housing there for senior citizens, low income residents and first time home-buyers, Taylor said. “We don’t even have a final game plan,” Taylor said. “A lot of things must be done before we come up with a final plan, but we truly believe this will be good for the people of Pennsauken and the area.”
>>> read more (Courier Post)

Sierra Club Action Network: SAY NO TO SPRAWL

11/2004. Although the State of New Jersey has refused Citgo’s gift of 392-acre Petty’s Island in the Delaware River, the environmental community hasn’t given up! Citgo is now offering to give a conservation easement on the island to the federal government in partnership with one or more private land trusts for FREE and to clean up ALL contamination to government environmental standards. Citgo is also offering to donate $2 million to a land trust to manage and conserve the island. Taxpayers will not be liable for any environmental clean up costs. Almost 900 responded to our first Petty’s Island alert.