By CAROL COMEGNO
The pounding of steel and the humming of heavy machinery pierced the usually tranquil Waterfront on Friday as construction began on an $11 million pier for the USS New Jersey.
After a crane lowered 90-foot tubular steel pilings into place, hammers pounded them into the Delaware River bed.
That formed the beginning of a T-shaped pier that will showcase the ship-turned-museum more than 200 feet offshore.
Work started about noon along the shoreline between the rear of the Tweeter Center and the Beckett Street Marine Terminal, and ended at 5 p.m.
The work is visible from Wiggins Waterfront Park in Camden and Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.
Members of the Home Port Alliance - the South Jersey coalition of labor, business and political leaders to which the Navy awarded the ship last year - are elated major construction has finally begun.
"This is so exciting. Perseverance and persistence got us here," said Patricia Jones, alliance co-chairman and the Camden County surrogate, who broke out a bottle of champagne at the site.
The other co-chairman, Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, said it took much effort to get to this stage. "The adrenaline is flowing," he said.
The alliance continues to hope for a Sept. 2 opening, but acknowledges that date could be pushed back. Although the ship preparation is likely to be done in September, Jones said, the date of the pier's completion is less certain.
"We will be working over the next month or so to revamp the schedule," she said. "Completion of the pier depends on how rapidly construction proceeds. We have been saying all along we would open in the fall of this year."
Alliance leaders had hoped to begin pile-driving several months ago, but the state permit process to allow pier pier construction took more time than they expected. The permit allows pile-driving only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., because of concerns that the noise will hurt the spring spawning of shad and other fish.
Meanwhile, the warship is undergoing a $7 million repair at the Broadway Terminal in South Camden. The project includes new teak decking, painting and restoration of the bridge and other areas above the main deck.
The New Jersey, built on the river at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, is one of the most highly decorated ships in U.S. naval history. It earned 16 battle stars awarded in three wars - World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Weeks Marine Inc. of Cranford used a 230-ton crane that loomed 160 feet high Friday to move each pile into position. The crane then lifted vertical hammers that drove the first three steel pipes into the river bottom.
Weeks Superintendent Daniel Mowers said these were the first of 278 pilings that will form the foundation of a 200- foot walkway to lead visitors to a 454-foot perpendicular end dock.
On Monday, an environmental company called PACE is expected to begin monitoring fish activity in the river in accordance with provisions of the state permit. Pile- driving will be allowed through the June 30 end of the spawning season unless monitoring equipment detects an adverse effect on the fish.