WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review a jurisdictional dispute between New Jersey and New York over Ellis Island in a case that could affect future bond-financed development on the island.
Robert Del Tufo, New Jersey's attorney general, told the court that the dispute, New Jersey v. New York, needs to be resolved immediately because Center Development Corp. has "imminent" plans to renovate three buildings in the contested area of the island, which lies between the two states in the Hudson River.
The renovated buildings, which would house graduate students and faculty for higher education institutions in New York City, would be financed by bonds issued by the Dormitory Authority of New York, Del Tufo said.
The court rejected a request by the Clinton Administration to stay out of the dispute, which involves federal as well as state jurisdiction. "The United States' title to the entire island is not in dispute," said Solicitor General Drew S. Days 3d in an April 28 brief.
However, New Jersey said it has never ceded its jurisdiction to either the United States or New York over 24.5 acres of submerged land that was artificially filled after the boundary between New Jersey and New York was fixed in 1834. Moreover, Jersey City had carried the land on its tax rolls for many years and has zoned the island, Del Tufo said.
In an opposing brief, New York Attorney General Robert Abrams said Ellis Island lies within New York jurisdiction.
Abrams told the court that there is no formally proposed plan to renovate the three buildings and that Center Development "is a private corporation without power to act on behalf of the state of New York. No state action has been taken to endorse or fund any plan which may be proposed ... No steps have been taken by the New York State Dormitory Authority to issue bonds to fund any such corporation plan."
But Days said neither state has a claim because the United States never relinquished jurisdiction that he claimed the two states ceded to it long ago.
Although "some buildings on the island might in the future be developed in a manner that would give rise to taxable interests in or activities on the island, such development has not occurred, and the prospects for future development are uncertain," the solicitor general said.