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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
South Jersey

DRPA may oversee state funds for battleship

Courier-Post staff

MOUNT HOLLY - The state is exploring the possibility of designating the Delaware River Port Authority as the oversight agency to review millions of dollars in state funding for the battleship New Jersey museum project in Camden.

State officials and state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, said no decisions have been made yet, but confirmed the DRPA is under consideration, as is the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

"I would think that probably in the next week or so we may have a final resolution on how it's to be done. The money will be funneled through one source - either the DRPA or Veterans Affairs," said Matheussen, a member of the nonprofit Home Port Alliance. The group won a competition with Bayonne and convinced the Navy to berth the USS New Jersey in Camden, and plans to open it as a floating museum next year.

However, using the bistate DRPA to funnel funds from the state to the Home Port Alliance, and to review expenditures, would be legally more complex than using a state agency since half of the DRPA's members are from Pennsylvania.

Matheussen and Rick Mroz, the governor's outgoing counsel, said the state is exploring legal and technical questions to see if it would be feasible for a bistate agency to handle state money. Normally, state grants to local governments and private groups are distributed through a state department.

"The bistate question is something that has to be looked at to ensure HPA could operate without the interference of Pennsylvania," said Matheussen, who, as the alliance liaison to the state, has been involved in the state funding discussions.

The state has several pots of money designated for the battleship, including a $6 million capital appropriation, an additional $7.2 million proposal for refurbishment and a landside museum, more than $1 million in vanity license plate fees and income tax checkoffs, and a transportation grant.

Matheussen also said there have been discussions of giving the state voting seats on the Home Port Alliance because of its financial commitments.

The state battleship commission, which lost its bid to put the battleship in Bayonne, has one state representative from the executive branch.

The alliance has 11 members with bylaw authorization to expand to 15. Some members said there may be a need for even further expansion.

Many alliance board members say they have no problem with some state representation on the board, but they declined to discuss numbers. They also said they see the need for other new members from the corporate community and veterans groups.

"We need business people as well as veterans on the board. I have always believed Norm Sooy should have a seat as the (Camden County) director of veterans affairs. He also is a river captain and has knowledge of the Delaware," said county Freeholder Pat Jones, an alliance member. "What we must focus on most is the outcome - opening the ship on the Camden Waterfront."

Matheussen said he has no concerns that these larger entities would try to dominate the board. "The decisions will still be made by the Home Port Alliance," he insisted.

Harry Kennedy, a spokesman for the DRPA, said Paulsen has expressed interest in serving on the Home Port Alliance.

Paulsen, a Republican appointee on the New Jersey delegation of the DRPA, is also chairman of the Burlington County Republican Party and counsel to Senate President Donald DiFrancesco, R-Union, the main sponsor of the $7.2 million proposal. Paulsen deferred comment Friday to Kennedy.

"The DRPA might be the most efficient vehicle to make the sources of money blend together the best. The state was happy with what the DRPA has done in expediting things like the Admiral Wilson Boulevard beautification program, the RCA pier and the OPSAIL (tall ships) sites," said Kennedy. "I believe it would be highly desirable to have our vice chairman sitting on the Home Port Alliance board."

The DRPA already has an employee on the alliance - Linda Hayes. She became a member mainly because of her grant-writing expertise, which she used to help write the successful Navy application.

The DRPA also is considering making its own financial commitment to the battleship project of at least $1 million, but that proposal has twice been pulled from the written board agenda in the past several months without explanation.

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