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

Battleship pier could be dogged by construction delays

Courier-Post Staff

A fast-track effort to build a pier for the battleship New Jersey by September 2001 could be delayed by a harsh winter, design changes or next spring's shad-spawning season.

In addition, say officials of the Home Port Alliance, the project must find an estimated $600,000 to $750,000 for dredging that originally was to be done and financed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Officials on Monday downplayed the severity of potential problems facing the planned pier.

The project to build a $5 million, T-shaped pier on the city's Waterfront is currently on schedule, said construction committee chairman Joseph Balzano.

"We are about to approve a final design from Hudson Engineers and hope to be able to award the construction contract by January," he said.

Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., said he is confident federal money will be forthcoming to pay for dredging.

The situation is "completely under control," said Andrews. "Sometimes it takes time to get money out of the federal pipeline and there is some question as to cost, but I foresee no difficulty."

Still, officials said several factors could affect the pace of construction.

"A bad winter alone could make it difficult to achieve our target opening," said retired Rear Admiral Thomas Seigenthaler, alliance executive director.

Another problem is the three-month shad season, starting March 15, when environmental rules prohibit pile-driving operations in the Delaware River.

Seigenthaler said the alliance also plans to change the original pier design submitted to the Navy. The revisions would require approvals from several government bodies.

The alliance plans to widen the access walkway to the ship from 30 feet to 45 feet, to accommodate emergency vehicles.

The Camden Fire Department requested the change for its pumper trucks and other rescue equipment, city battalion fire chief Paul Price said Monday.

"Our major concern is if there were a fire on board, we would have to have a 30-foot clearance to get on and off to the pier," he said. Under the original design, any benches or other objects along the walkway "would have reduced the clearance to less than 30 feet, which is not acceptable."

Also, the dock alongside the ship - originally 600 feet long - would be shortened to 400 to 450 feet.

In part, this is a financial consideration in order to provide funds to widen the other section, board officials have said. It also would give a less obstructed view of the 887-foot ship from the shore.

The Navy would have to approve any changes in the pier design as well as changes in other aspects of the battleship project, said a Navy spokesman in Washington, D. C.

The alliance also would need amendments to permits from the Army Corps and state Department of Environmental Protection.

As part of the project, a channel must be dredged to give the battleship access to the pier near the E-Centre. The ship now is undergoing repairs at the Broadway Terminal in Camden.

Alliance officials initially believed the Army Corps would fund and perform the dredging under terms of federal legislation involving the South Jersey Port Corp. in Camden.

But Army Corps spokesman Richard Chlan in Philadelphia said the 1999 Water Resources Development Act only authorizes the environmental study for such a project. It does not authorize the Army Corps to perform the dredging and it provides no money for the work.

The alliance, which has a dredging permit from the Army Corps, still must obtain a state-approved disposal site for the river material, Chlan said.

The alliance board is pushing for the September 2001 opening date in order to give the public access to the ship as soon as possible and also to accommodate Gov. Christie Whitman. The governor, who has supported the project, would like to see the ship at least partially open before she leaves office at the end of next year.

The alliance initially plans to open only the battleship's main deck as well as the exterior and interior sections of the upper decks, including the bridge and captain's quarters. It hopes eventually to add at least one tour of lower decks areas like the engine rooms or general crew quarters.

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