By KIM MAIALETTI
The Home Port Alliance on Friday stopped construction of the battleship USS New Jersey's visitors center, acknowledging it never secured required building permits.
Meanwhile, Camden's Code Enforcement Bureau lifted a stop- work order on construction for the T-shaped pier where the ship will be berthed. It rescinded the order after the alliance paid the city the necessary permit fees associated with the pier project and obtained authorization to build.
The Courier-Post reported Friday that the alliance had been violating the July 24 stop-work order. The city says it was intended to cover the pier and visitors center, although the order didn't actually specify that.
Members of the alliance held a four-hour emergency meeting Friday afternoon in a construction trailer at the work site. They emerged from the meeting to say there had been confusion over the stop-work order because the city miscalculated the building permit fee. The city did make a mistake when it calculated the fee to be $200,000, said mayoral aide Christine Jones. The correct fee is $36,024. Such fees are based on a formula determined by the cost of a project. That amount was entered incorrectly into a computer, resulting in the error, Jones said.
There also was debate over whether the alliance even needed to pay the fee because the construction site is owned by various government agencies. The group, however, is a nonprofit organization and is not exempt from paying fees, city officials said.
"The project has moved quickly over the summer," said former Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones, co-chairman of the alliance with state Sen. John Matheussen, R- Gloucester. "So bureaucratic snafus have confounded all of us."
The city has not determined whether it will seek to collect thousands of dollars in fines imposed on the alliance for its failure to comply with the stop-work order, Christine Jones said.
"Due to all the confusion, we'd have to take a look at whether or not the penalties will be vigorously enforced," the mayor's aide said.
Despite not having a building permit until Friday, the alliance is nearing completion of the pier construction. But confusion remains over which agency - the state Department of Community Affairs or the city Code Enforcement Bureau - has jurisdiction over inspecting it and whether a certificate of occupancy is required. The certificate would confirm that all work has been performed to meet the state's uniform construction code, which is in place to ensure buildings and structures are safe.
Patricia Jones and members of the alliance's construction committee, which oversees the $20 million project, said the organization's engineers will continue to inspect and certify the work.
"No one here is trying to do anything bad," said committee member Phil Norcross.
"I want that to be the most wonderful pier ever built on this river," Patricia Jones said. "We need to assure the public that this is a wonderful thing and is indeed safe."
According to state Community Affairs spokesman E.J. Miranda, the state agency is responsible for reviewing and approving plans for the pier, visitors center and battleship. The city is responsible for issuing permits for the pier and visitors center, while the battleship permits will be issued by the state.
But the alliance remains confused.
"To this day, the HPA's professionals believe there is confusion as to which agency has jurisdiction over the interim visitors facility," the alliance said in a written statement.
As of Friday afternoon, the state had not approved plans for the visitors center and had not received any plans for the 887-foot-long battleship museum, Miranda said.
The plans for the ship would include heating and air air conditioning work, electrical work and renovations for a public restroom, said Mike Griffin of Hill International, the construction management firm. Griffin said the plans were sent to the DCA by Federal Express on Friday.
The ship is slated to be moved to its permanent berth on Sept. 3. The alliance is still aiming to open it to the public by the end of September.
As for the visitors center construction:
"It's on hold until further notice," Patricia Jones said. "We're hoping that's not past Monday."
The 59-year-old USS New Jersey, the Navy's most highly decorated battleship, has fought in three major wars - World War II, Korea and Vietnam - since its launching in 1942 from the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It was decommissioned in 1991.
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