shifts control of USS New Jersey
By CAROL COMEGNO
agency - and not the New Jersey Battleship Commission - will
handle the towing contract and other matters involving the USS
New Jersey's passage through the Panama Canal in October.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
will oversee the project, said Rene Van Hoorde, marine administrator
for the Panama Canal Commission.
U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton said the change was made
after the Navy raised concerns about a potential conflict of
interest during the ship's passage.
The Burlington County Republican called the
move a "significant step" toward a neutral decision
on the ship's final site.
The Battleship Commission wants the New Jersey
to become a floating museum in Bayonne, Hudson County. Camden
also is seeking the World War II ship as a tourist attraction.
"Finally this will create a fair playing
field for Camden," Saxton said Monday.
A spokesman for the Battleship Commission
expressed no concern over the change, however. Gordon Bishop
noted the nonprofit body is an advisory group under the state's
Department of Environmental Protection.
"We are all part of state government,
which I don't think the Navy understands," Bishop said.
"It was the commission that proposed the original towing
plan that the canal commission recently accepted and it was (commission
chairman) Joe Azzolina who worked out this plan with Gov. Whitman
to involve the military department.
"It was a natural," Bishop said
of the change.
Ray Martyniuk, a spokesman for the Military
and Veterans Affairs Department, said he was not aware of the
decision. But, he added, "I may have more information tomorrow."
Van Hoorde said the ship is to begin its passage
through the canal Oct. 18. The New Jersey will be the largest
battleship towed through the canal while not under power.
It is to be towed to this area from Bremerton,
Wash. The Navy, which owns the ship, plans to dock the vessel
at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard until a decision is
made on a final berth.
The ship was built at the Philadelphia Naval
Shipyard across from South Jersey. It was stored after World
War II at the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne.