By CAROL COMEGNO
It's a battle over the battleship. As the trustees of the
Home Port Alliance prepare to approve the design for the
USS New Jersey museum, a rift has developed over a number
of key issues including the project's size and cost.
The alliance has adopted a Sept. 2, 2001, target date
for a partial opening of the ship museum, but board
officials say that will make it impossible to prepare the
lower decks. And if the board approves a larger museum than
the original concept, the cost would exceed the $20 million
now committed or proposed for the pier, ship restoration
and a museum.
The board still has yet to decide on a design for the $5.
2 million pier, whose construction is supposed to begin in
The board is now working without the input of the
president and two key members who compiled the successful
ship museum application that persuaded the Navy to choose
Camden instead of a Bayonne site proposed by the state
battleship commission during an intense competition.
The two members resigned since September. The president,
retired Capt. David McGuigan, who also tendered his
resignation, told the Courier-Post on Friday he is
seriously considering remaining on the board as a result of
a recent letter he received from the other trustees. He
declined to comment further. The board declined to accept
his Nov. 9 resignation, asking him to reconsider and
calling his "Herculean efforts" invaluable and his presence
on the board needed for future challenges.
The board is also planning to discuss the job performance
of its paid executive director, Thomas Seigenthaler, at its
meeting Wednesday because of a pattern of communications
problems that include ignoring board directives, said board
members and other sources.
They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearful that state
and Delaware River Port Authority funds could be
Sources on and close to the board say Coopers Ferry
Development Corp., the DRPA, the governor's office and some
consultants are trying to control the project.
They say factors like these played a partial role in the
resignations of McGuigan; Ann Duvall, an aide to Sen. John
Matheussen, R-Gloucester; and Linda Hayes, a DRPA grants
specialist. However, the three resignation letters cited
only personal reasons, saying the project had been
extremely time consuming.
Board member Patricia Jones and Vice President Donald
Norcross acknowledge there have been differences on the
board in recent months.
"The board is undergoing significant change, and there
are all kinds of influences coming to bear," said Jones. "
Some people are able to make the adjustment and others
cannot, and it is unfortunate we would lose people who were
there at the beginning."
However, she said she remains faithful to the goals of
the Navy proposal, though that plan may have to change.
Jones said she has questioned why the state chose to
funnel its money through the DRPA instead of the state
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. "The process
is convoluted, but I have to accept what the state has
decided because it will make the project happen."
Norcross said there have been board differences over
the "massaging" of the plan presented for the battleship
but declined to confirm that a power struggle was on.
"It's about the fact that they just want to be in
charge. Coopers Ferry is funded by the DRPA and lost its
entertainment project on this side of the river. The DRPA
wants to be in charge of everything on the Waterfront, and
the governor's office wants the ship opened in September
while she is still in office," said one source. "The state
and DRPA hold the purse strings, but I think it is also a
sheer control issue of wanting to be in charge."
He and others called McGuigan an "independent voice" who
has no political ties to any group and who has provided
inspirational leadership for more than two years and
without whom the ship might have ended up in Bayonne.
Other trustees said there have been long-standing
problems with Seigenthaler, who they say has formed an
alliance with Coopers Ferry and the DRPA.
The state has approved $6 million for the project, paid
the ship's transit through the Panama Canal last year and
is contemplating another $7.2 million for the land museum
and to make more areas of the ship accessible. The DRPA has
committed $2 million of its own.
However, Seigenthaler acknowledged that more money would
be needed than is currently committed or proposed for a
larger museum being proposed by architectural consultant
Leo Daly of Omaha, Neb. That alone could cost about $21
million. Under the vision plan in the original application,
present funds and the $7.2 million would be enough to cover
the cost of an enclosed interpretive walkway in a smaller
On his job performance, Seigenthaler said he has tried
to work with the board.
"I am sorry that that is an issue with them. We have
very busy people and it is difficult to verify discussions
and meetings," he said. "We are working different projects
all at one time. If you spend time talking individually to
all the members, you never get anywhere. We try to keep
people informed as to what is going on. ... If people feel
they are being left out, I am really sorry, but you have to
give a guy a job and let him do it."
Trustees like Matheussen and Frank Fulbrook, a Camden
activist, said they see no power struggle. Matheussen said
no state money has been needed because there are no
construction contracts yet.
DRPA vice chairman Glenn Paulsen, a new member of the
alliance, has not attended meetings for months. Instead, he
sends David Murphy, the DRPA director of economic
development, who cannot vote.
"We're not trying to control the board. I don't even get
involved in the week-to-week board operation. My
contribution the past months has been to work out an
arrangement for receiving the state money for the
battleship project," said Paulsen.
Although some members acknowledge some of Murphy's input
has been valuable, they question why the board has allowed
him to attend most meetings.
Camden Mayor Milton Milan, who is in the midst of a
corruption trial in Camden, also has not been attending
meetings this year.
Thomas Corcoran, executive director of the Coopers Ferry
Development Corp., is an alliance member but has not
returned several phone calls to the Courier-Post.
The board rejected an early attempt by Corcoran to have
Coopers Ferry become the project manager, but ethics issues
were raised. Instead the board advertised the contract and
hired Hill International of Willingboro.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Christie Whitman said the state
has a seat on the board, and this gives it more than just
financial review of the project. She denied the state was
trying to run the board.
"And it would be fitting for the ship to open before
a governor who has so fully supported the ship leaves
office," said spokeswoman Stephanie Bell.