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South Jersey

February 27, 1999

USS New Jersey coming to region

Courier-Post staff

The USS New Jersey is coming to the South Jersey-Philadelphia area, officials said Friday - but they didn't agree if it will stay here.

The historic battleship, now docked in Bremerton, Wash., is expected to arrive in November at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where it will stay until the Navy Department decides on a permanent berthing site.

The Navy is considering two rival sites - the Camden Waterfront and the Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal in Hudson County. A decision is expected late this year or early next year.

Supporters of the Camden site said they hope the rest stop increases the odds the battleship will anchor here permanently.

"We'll form a human chain across the Delaware so the New Jersey will never leave," said state Sen. John Matheussen, a Gloucester County Republican who has pushed hard for the Camden site.

But Hudson County's supporters said they're not concerned.

"This will not give them (Camden supporters) an edge," said state Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, chairman of the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission and the guiding force behind the move to bring the warship to New Jersey. The commission favors the Bayonne site.

"Nobody has possession to the ship at all," said Azzolina, a Monmouth County Republican. "It's only going to be waiting there."

A Navy spokeswoman said the docking site does not indicate a preference for Camden. The shipyard is the region's only site with a battleship berth, she observed.

The New Jersey is expected to leave Bremerton in mid-September for a two-month tow to this area, said Azzolina. He expects the ship will make a weeklong passage through the Panama Canal in mid-October and will be towed up the Delaware River about Nov. 15.

The battleship, to be towed at the state's expense, will dock at the Navy's Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility.

The announcement was welcome news for the Home Port Alliance, a group of some 300 civic and business leaders working to bring the battleship to Camden as a memorial and tourist attraction. The group held a rally Friday at a meeting of the Southern New Jersey Development Council in Absecon.

"I say we will win out in the long run," said Joe Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp. in Camden.

The alliance is seeking donations of $5 million to help pay the costs of bringing the New Jersey to a berth south of the New Jersey State Aquarium.

The battleship was built in the Philadelphia shipyard by workers from South Jersey and Pennsylvania, prompting the alliance slogan, "From birth to berth."

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