DRPA vice chairman to oversee 'Big J' funds |
By EILEEN STILWELL
CAMDEN - Glenn Paulsen, vice chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority and chairman of the Burlington County Republican Party, will control the purse strings on at least $15.2 million in public money set aside to turn the USS New Jersey into a Camden Waterfront museum.
The decision came Wednesday at a regular meeting of DRPA, in which the bistate authority agreed to contribute $2 million to the battleship project for operating expenses such as insurance, utilities and security.
DRPA also agreed to advance $6 million for capital improvements, previously committed by the state of New Jersey. That money will be reimbursed. Paulsen will oversee disbursement of those funds, plus another $7.2 million in state money proposed for the battleship.
Unlike other allocations of DRPA money, which require full board approval or approval by the chairman, vice chairman and executive director, battleship spending will be controlled by Paulsen alone. The board empowered Paulsen by unanimous resolution.
''Pennsylvania will have nothing to do with this,'' said Paulsen in an effort to clear up perceptions that the restoration of the USS New Jersey is a bistate issue.
Paulsen said Gov. Christie Whitman chose to flow battleship money through DRPA's vice chairman, who heads the eight-member New Jersey delegation on the board, because ''we have support staff here and have project experience.''
Privately, Waterfront watchers say Whitman is so pleased with the rapid transformation of Admiral Wilson Boulevard, a DRPA project under the direction of the authority's Economic Development Director, David Murphy, that Paulsen and Murphy have become her ''can-do guys.''
Until now, the 11-member board of the Home Port Alliance has been the lead agency on bringing ''Big J'' to South Jersey. Now, it and Paulsen must figure out how to work together.
''We're working on terms of a contract now,'' said Paulsen, adding that he plans to take a seat on the Alliance board.
In addition, Paulsen said he expects new seats to be created for representation by the state departments of Transportation and Veterans and Military Affairs, and the Camden County Office of Veterans Affairs.
Also under discussion is a seat for a representative from the Camden Empowerment Zone. If all categories are accommodated, the Alliance could grow from 11 to 16 members.
Donald Norcross, vice president of the Home Port Alliance, said expansion of the board seems inevitable. But he said it is not likely to occur until the Alliance takes official title to the battleship from the Navy sometime this summer.
''There has been much discussion on board development, including more members from the private sector, as well,'' said Norcross, president of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. ''We look forward to working with new members.''
While it is clear major state appropriations will trickle down from DRPA, Norcross said he is unsure how much money for the battleship has been raised through the sale of license plates and from state income tax returns, and who will control it.
In other business, DRPA Chairman Manuel Stamatakis announced the House Appropriations Committee approved Tuesday a $21.7 billion budget for the Army Corps of Engineers for fiscal 2001. The budget includes $29 million to dredge the navigational channel of the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet.
Critics say the plan is a waste of money, will benefit few if any ports and refineries along the river, and will damage the environment. Labor and maritime industry officials say dredging is necessary to keep the ports along the Delaware from Cape May to Camden competitive with other East Coast ports.
DRPA is the local sponsor for the project, expected to cost $311 million.
Still, the project is a long way from final passage. The Senate must craft its own bill, and then the two bills have to be reconciled into one compromise version and passed by both chambers again. Then the president must sign it.