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

Deal near on transfer of USS New Jersey

Courier-Post staff

The signing of the contract transferring the historic battleship USS New Jersey to the South Jersey coalition spearheading its renovation could take place early next week.

The signing could occur as early as Monday or Tuesday and will take place either in Washington, D.C., or in Philadelphia, said retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance.

The USS New Jersey, which made its long-awaited arrival in the Delaware River eight months ago, is expected to finally take its place in New Jersey waters by the end of July - in time for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

"We want to bring it to Camden to give it more visibility for the people of New Jersey," McGuigan said. "It just happens to be coinciding with the convention, which will give it even greater visibility with 15,000 news media from around the world."

Convention officials have made no secret of their wish for the heavily decorated warship to play a role in GOP activities, perhaps hosting a July 30 welcoming party for delegates and dignitaries.

Gov. Christie Whitman also is pushing for the ship to be on display at Camden's Beckett Street Terminal in time for the convention, which begins July 31.

The Home Port Alliance is spearheading plans to turn the battleship into a floating memorial and museum. The contract transferring the ship from the Navy to the alliance must be signed first before the ship can be towed from a Navy mothball facility in Philadelphia to Camden, where it can be more easily seen from both sides of the Delaware River.

The ship will not be open to the public until late 2001, following a $15 million to $21 million overhaul and construction of a shoreside visitor center, an interpretive walkway and a pier for berthing.

A private, high-level meeting to discuss logistics of the move to Camden was held Monday at the Delaware River Port Authority with members of the alliance and a state representative. No information was made available from the meeting.

McGuigan said the ship could be towed - at an estimated cost of $50,000 - to the South Jersey Port Corp.'s Beckett Street Terminal, where it would remain for at least part of the summer.

However, McGuigan said no decision has been made.

The site is just south of the place where the USS New Jersey ultimately will reside as a permanent museum - along the Camden Waterfront, behind the E-Centre and near the state Aquarium.

Once the GOP convention ends on Aug. 3, the ship eventually will be moved to another spot along the river to undergo interior and exterior restoration, including replacement of its teakwood deck.

The alliance is considering two repair sites - the South Jersey Port Corp.'s Broadway Terminal in Camden, just north of the Walt Whitman Bridge, or at the vacant BP Oil Co. refinery pier in Paulsboro in neighboring Gloucester County. The board could decide to tow the ship to Beckett Street on Wednesday and is expected to discuss the repair sites.

State Sen. John Matheussen, a founder and original member of the alliance, said there is a "strong possibility" the ship will be towed to Beckett Street. He also said repairs should be performed in Camden, rather than Paulsboro or Philadelphia.

"We are grateful to Paulsboro and BP for offering their pier, but Camden is our primary focus," Matheussen said. "It is part of the alliance's mission statement that the ship will help bring an economic stimulus to one of the poorest cities in the country. We have a duty to Camden and restoring the ship at the Broadway Terminal would create jobs right there in the city."

Beckett Street Terminal once was a shipyard that built Navy vessels like the carrier Kitty Hawk and the battleship South Dakota during and after World Wart II.

Matheussen said overhauling the ship in Paulsboro would require working from barges, where cranes and other equipment would have to be built specifically for the job. The Paulsboro dock is suitable for mooring, he said, but not for heavy construction.

Navy Secretary Richard Danzig announced in January the USS New Jersey had been awarded to the Home Port Alliance, whose successful application called for a permanent home in Camden. Camden was chosen over an application by the state-sanctioned Battleship Commission, which sought to have the ship berthed at an abandoned military terminal in Bayonne.

Danzig decided the ship museum should be on the Delaware River, near the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where it was built during World War II by craftsmen from both sides of the river.

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