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South Jersey

Sunday, September 2, 2001
Home Port Alliance officials reviewing pier improvements

Courier-Post Staff

A little more than a year ago, Delaware River tugboats nudged the battleship New Jersey into a repair pier here so the work on restoring it for a museum could begin.

Most of that work is now complete. But the ship won't open this Labor Day weekend, as planned, because of last- minute construction delays at its new $11 million pier behind the Tweeter Center.

"The tour route on the ship is just about ready but the pier is not," said Patricia Jones, co-chair of the Home Port Alliance, the South Jersey nonprofit in charge of the project. "We don't want to open until things are ready and safe, but we still hope to do it before the end of the month."

A Labor Day opening would have been appropriate because the work on the Navy's most decorated warship has been a labor of love by union workers and volunteers, said state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, the alliance's other co- chairman.

"It's a project that captures you and that's the way our contractors and our volunteers feel," he said.

The delays were blamed, in part, on a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico in August. Officials said the storm delayed a steel delivery by barge. Also, hard material beneath the riverbed slowed pile-driving for the new mooring system.

Last year, the Navy awarded the alliance the task of of converting the historic warship into a museum on the Camden Waterfront, across the river from Philadelphia. The alliance hired consultants and pursued a three-pronged, $20 million plus project that is being paid for mainly with state and other public funds.

The project, fast-tracked because Trenton wants the ship open as soon as possible, includes a new pier and a shoreside visitor center.

The ship is docked at the Broadway Terminal. Hundreds of volunteers have worked on the $7 million restoration with a small paid staff and contractors. Many of them are military veterans or skilled craftsmen from the former Philadelphia naval shipyard, where the ship was built in the 1940s and first modernized in 1968.

For more than a week, no construction has been done on the $1 million visitor center because of a stop-work order issued by the city of Camden for lack of a building permit.

While alliance officials called the lack of a permit a a a jurisdictional misunderstanding, the state is now reviewing final plans for the ship and visitor center.

The alliance will meet Wednesday for a construction update with the hope of setting dates.

Meanwhile, Matheussen, several other alliance officials and their consultants met with the state Department of Community Affairs officials late Friday to discuss the project. The session went "extremely well," he said.

"They are reviewing the topside improvements for the pier now as well as the visitor center, but the city code enforcement office will do the final inspections," the senator said.

He said it was determined the ship needs a certificate of occupancy from DCA, whose inspectors may visit the ship this week. "They told us a September opening is plausible," Matheussen said.

DCA spokesman E.J. Miranda said the alliance requested the meeting to inform everyone of the requirements, but he gave no details.

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