Lawmaker seeks review of decision on battleship
Staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON - Spurred by members of the New Jersey Battleship Commission, a North Jersey congresswoman asked the General Accounting Office on Monday to review the Navy's decision to retire the USS New Jersey on the Camden Waterfront instead of an ocean terminal in Bayonne.
The appeal by U.S. Rep. Marge Roukema, a Bergen County Republican, reopens the North vs. South fight for the battleship that many believed ended when the Navy awarded the mothballed warship to Camden on Jan. 20.
Roukema had supported a competing plan - backed by the state-appointed battleship commission - to bring the ship to Bayonne, across the harbor from New York City.
Roukema's move is not expected to delay preparations to move the battleship, now temporarily anchored in Philadelphia, to Camden for restoration and a planned Spring 2001 grand opening as a floating museum.
Both Camden and Bayonne applied to the Navy to host the battleship and create a floating museum as a tourist attraction. An application by the Home Port Alliance to bring the battleship to Camden - across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where it was built during World War II - was the unanimous choice of a Navy review panel.
A majority of commission members favored putting the battleship at the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, hoping someday to move it to Liberty State Park in Jersey City if the park's waterfront were renovated to accommodate the huge vessel.
Roukema spokesman Craig Shearman said Monday the battleship commission asked the congresswoman to appeal the Navy's decision.
Joseph Dyer Sr. of Pennsville, one of only two South Jersey representatives on the 15-member battleship commission, said the call to Roukema likely was the work of isolated members of the commission's disgruntled North Jersey contingent.
''There's been no discussion of this by the commission, as a commission,'' Dyer said Monday.
''Those people in North Jersey were all bent out of shape because they didn't get their way,'' Dyer said. ''This is one of them trying to stir the pot.''
The appeal to Roukema was the second attempt this month by the commission - headed by Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth - to overturn the Navy's choice of Camden over Bayonne.
On March 1, commission members voted to hire a lawyer and sue the Navy - only to quickly rescind their vote after a rebuke from Gov. Christie Whitman's office. Whitman spokesman Pete McDonough called the aborted lawsuit ''one of the dumbest ideas we ever heard.''
Azzolina could not be reached for comment on Roukema's action.
In her letter to Comptroller General David M. Walker, Roukema wrote that ''the vast majority of New Jerseyans want the (USS) New Jersey located in Bayonne and, eventually, Liberty State Park."
"Locating the New Jersey at Liberty State Park would place it in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, making it part of one of the most-visited historic sites in the nation. By contrast, Camden has failed to prove itself as a tourist destination."
Roukema's letter failed to note that the battleship commission's application to the Navy to berth the ship in Bayonne did not call for an eventual move to Liberty State Park, but rather for permanent placement in Bayonne.
In addition, a number of New York officials - including a pair of Roukema's colleagues in the U.S. House, Reps. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. - have publicly opposed the Bayonne site. Another naval museum near New York City, they believe, would provide dangerous competition for the aircraft carrier Intrepid, already a floating museum in Manhattan and the world's largest naval museum.
Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, executive director of the Home Port Alliance, said work to restore the battleship and prepare its future home on the Camden Waterfront, will continue despite the GAO appeal - an appeal he is confident the Navy will win.
''I can only tell you that it was a grueling, agonizing and complete decision that was made with a complete review,'' Seigenthaler said. ''Ten people read all 1,700 pages (of the Home Port Alliance application) and made a unanimous decision.''
''(Appeal) is an option people have,'' he said, ''and you have to respect them for exercising their options no matter what they are.
''But it's sad that this type of thing has to go on. From our standpoint, it's certainly not a good thing because it does disrupt the process of getting on with the job.''
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig announced Jan. 20 that the battleship, a decorated veteran of four military conflicts, would spend its retirement off Camden, just up the Delaware River from the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The ship was built there early in World War II.
Members of Congress had 30 legislative days to appeal Danzig's decision, although a clerical error in the House of Representatives delayed the start of the 30-day review period until Feb. 29.