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By BILL DUHART
The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a $7.2 million grant to help refurbish the battleship USS New Jersey.
The bill passed 37-0. It adds momentum to the long-awaited opening of the historic battleship docked at the Camden Waterfront.
The appropriation still must pass in the Assembly, where it has bipartisan support.
The next step in the decades-long odyssey to convert the most decorated ship in the Navy into a museum will be a much-anticipated opening.
State Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, a co-sponsor of the appropriation, along with acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, said he expects the opening date to be announced this week. He said the ship represents an important symbol for New Jersey and the nation.
``It's a very proud moment for a ship that's a namesake of the state,'' said Matheussen, who spearheaded the grant approval in the Senate and is also the co-chairman of the Home Port Alliance, the group restoring the ship. ``It served our nation and we all stand proud, especially at this time in our country's history.''
The ship was scheduled to open Labor Day but construction delays on the $11 million, T-shaped pier where it is docked delayed the opening.
The alliance expects to spend more than $22 million to restore the ship.
Matheussen said key areas of the ship soon will be opened to the public while restoration on other areas continues. The ship has more than 1,000 rooms and 13 decks.
The battleship is more than just a symbol for Frank Fulbrook, an alliance board member and Camden city resident. He hopes it will be an economic anchor for the impoverished city.
``When the entire Waterfront is developed, then the adjacent downtown area has great potential for development,'' said Fulbrook. ``That's the way it worked in Baltimore.''
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