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

We got the ship! And South Jersey responds

For the Courier-Post

Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig has announced that the Navy will donate the battleship USS New Jersey to the Home Port Alliance. For the Home Port Alliance Board of Trustees, this ends a period of hard work, waiting and anticipation. The secretary's announcement is a major milestone in establishing the USS New Jersey Memorial at the Camden Waterfront.

The Navy conducted a structured, impartial objective and comprehensive review, evaluating two proposals for the ship: one from the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission proposing Bayonne, the other from the Alliance proposing the Camden Waterfront.

The process was competitive. The secretary chose the South Jersey site because it is superior to that in Bayonne. The board's proposal was superior to that submitted by the Battleship Commission. It was thorough and comprehensive.

The secretary said, "The application set a new standard to which future naval museums will be judged." His decision was not a political gift to South Jersey or some crafted bequest to the city of Camden.

The Alliance will make the USS New Jersey the principal element and core of a self-sufficient museum, dedicated memorial, and an educational and commemorative military and veterans' site. Through imaginative venues, the memorial will tell the many lives of the USS New Jersey. Its design and location, the southern anchor of the extensive Camden Waterfront development, will inspire current and future generations of N.J. residents.

It will help visitors understand the importance of the USS New Jersey in the Navy's struggle to gain and maintain control of the seas. It will show the contributions of the people of New Jersey in achieving this national goal.

Maritime heritage

The adjacent active South Jersey Port Corp.'s Beckett Street Terminal will complement the memorial by allowing visitors to experience the vitality of a maritime heritage. The memorial is another important element in a mosaic moving the Camden Waterfront closer conceptually to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Pier 39 in San Francisco, and Bayside Market Place in Miami.

During the Navy's review process, the Alliance's board garnered bipartisan support from federal representatives from the Delaware Valley region. An extensive, solid base of local and regional support including community groups, organized labor, economic development agencies, schools, community service organizations and veterans groups showed their support in varying ways, each playing a role in presenting a comprehensive approach to the Navy.

The media proved to be a vital contributor to this process. The media leader was the Courier-Post, which played a significant role in developing public awareness. It showed the importance of the battleship to the future of the Camden Waterfront. With outstanding journalism, it successfully educated the people of South Jersey about the complex issues of the Navy's selection process. The board and the people of South Jersey are indebted to the paper and its staff for their supportive efforts.

However, the real key to the success of the Alliance's effort is its outstanding, diversified board of trustees. The board realized early the immensity of the task. It understood that the USS New Jersey at the Camden Waterfront was more than just the goal of getting a ship.

The board perceives the USS New Jersey Memorial in the light of social action. It set as an important program objective the memorial as an element in the rebuilding of the city of Camden. Competition from cheap foreign ship construction, financial leveraging, domestic national politics, urban flight, military downsizing and, eventually, the rounds of military base closings, have nearly eliminated the city's highly labor-intensive industrial base.

Pivotal for Camden

The success of the Camden Waterfront is pivotal in the rebirth of Camden. The board sees the memorial as an important element in this rebirth.

The board is experienced. Each trustee has a seasoned background and played an important role in developing our strong engineering, curatorial and economic proposal. All are volunteers. There is no paid staff.

Officers of this diverse board include Donald Norcross, board vice president, who is president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council; Joseph A. Balzano, board secretary, the executive director and chief executive officer of the South Jersey Port Corp.; and Philip P. Rowan, board treasurer and executive director of the Camden County Improvement Authority.

Board trustees include Thomas P. Corcoran, president and chief executive officer of Cooper's Ferry Development Association; Camden Mayor Milton Milan; Ann DuVall, communications specialist and legislative aide to state Sen. John J. Matheussen, R-Gloucester, of the Fourth District; Linda Hayes, capital grants specialist at the Delaware River Port Authority; Camden County Freeholder Patricia Egan Jones; Sen. Matheussen, a partner in the law firm of Dilworth, Paxson, and Philip A. Norcross, managing shareholder and chief executive officer of Parker McCay & Criscuolo.

The memorial's executive director and director of business development is retired Navy Rear Adm. Thomas U. Seigenthaler, a former commander of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and fleet maintenance officer of the U.S. fleet. He is now with NDI Engineering Co., a firm of research and consulting engineers in Thorofare.

We must express our gratitude to the long hours of tireless effort of these dedicated and socially minded volunteers.

The work ahead is significant. The board is fine-tuning memorial planning; developing contract specifications for the museum's design, engineering and construction and for the ship's repair and restoration; working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to develop an agreement to use the USS New Jersey as a museum in accordance with the Toxic Substance Control Act; working with the Navy to develop the battleship's transfer agreement. We must establish quickly workable funds-transfer processes with our financial backers the state, Camden County, the Camden Empowerment Zone Corp. and others.

Work to begin

The USS New Jersey should be transferred to the Alliance in the next 60 days. Work will begin on constructing a pier at the Camden Waterfront in the next four to five months and on the ship, at either the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard or some other site on the Delaware River, probably sooner. Construction of the third element of the project, the shoreside museum, should start in about a year. The three elements will be integrated and opened to the public by summer 2001.

Some say, "South Jersey should never take a back seat to anyone." This is true, but the battleship USS New Jersey is not part of the equality equation. The Home Port Alliance differed from the Battleship Commission in only one way where we thought the USS New Jersey should be finally berthed. "Birthplace to Berthplace" was and is our guiding maxim.

The USS New Jersey belongs to all the citizens of New Jersey north, south, and those in Trenton. All the citizens of New Jersey must work together to establish a fitting and reverent memorial for this historic ship. Our plan is ambitious and requires the moral, emotional, physical and financial support of all New Jersey.

The battle is won. The battle was to bring the USS New Jersey home to our state.

The writer, a Haddonfield resident, is president of the Home Port Alliance Board of Trustees and was commanding officer of the Naval Ships Systems Engineering Station at the former Philadelphia Naval Base.

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