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

Selection of site for battleship scrutinized

Courier-Post staff

CAMDEN -- Representatives of Congress' investigative arm plan to visit the city next week as part of a review sought by two North Jersey lawmakers who question the Navy's decision to place the USS New Jersey here as a floating museum.

A General Accounting Office official in Washington confirmed Monday that the agency has decided to conduct a review of the process as requested by Reps. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Meanwhile, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are visiting the battleship this week at its mooring at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard as part of an on-board environmental assessment. Warren Christensen, Navy spokesman in Philadelphia, said an EPA team is at the yard all week and will be on board the ship, but gave no other details.

Retired Capt. David McGuigan said he and retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler are to meet with GAO officials May 5 as representatives of the Home Port Alliance, a nonprofit coalition that won the competition for the ship against the state battleship commission. The commission proposed placing the ship in Bayonne at a former military terminal on the Hudson River across from New York City.

"We have begun a job on that subject," said GAO spokesman Ned Griffith. "We do not have a completion date and our policy is not to discuss work in progress."

But South Jersey congressmen have said the GAO's findings, regardless of the outcome, cannot overturn the Navy's decision. That can only come from Congress, they said, which took no action before the 30-day comment period on the Navy's decision expired earlier this month. A Navy review panel announced its unanimous decision in favor of Camden on Jan. 20 after a review of more than eight months.

McGuigan, Home Port Alliance president, said GAO investigators called him Friday, said they wanted to see the Camden site and asked to meet May 5.

"They told me they will be reviewing only the application process and not the applications themselves or their merits," he said.

"I am really happy that an independent third party of the caliber of the GAO is taking a look because they may be able to dispel a lot of of negative attitudes and put this controversy to rest," McGuigan said.

Roukema and Menendez had asked the GAO to investigate the Navy's application review process for donated ships, alleging the Navy may have violated its procedures. Menendez, whose district includes Bayonne, alleged several deficiencies.

He said the Navy failed to alert the state battleship commission about weaknesses or inaccuracies in documents submitted and that the Navy did not give enough weight to community support around the Bayonne site.

McGuigan disagrees.

"The Navy selection process was extremely professional," he said.

They asked us a series of questions on different parts of the application and we were able to submit additional information. They also visited both sites," he said.

In a related development, the Navy inspector general has declined Menendez's request to review the Navy process.

"They called to say they will not be looking at it because the inspector general works directly for the Secretary of the Navy, who made the final site selection," Menendez spokesman Andrew Kauders cq said Monday.

Kauders said the congressmen is pleased with the GAO decision.

Rep. James Saxton, R-N.J., a backer of the Camden site, said he expects a favorable review from GAO. "We spoke to them today. They will probably take an unbiased look and decide the Navy came to the best conclusion in choosing Camden and the Delaware River," he said.

"In that conversation they acknowledged what we now known for a few weeks the Navy's decision is now final."

However, the Courier-Post has learned from sources close to the review that EPA will take hundreds of samples from areas below the ship's deck to test for the presence of hazardous materials like PCB's a carcinogen found in some types of mechanical equipment. The EPA took its first tour of the ship earlier this month.

The Home Port Alliance and the Navy must develop a remediation plan for hazardous waste before EPA will issue an occupancy permit to open the ship to the public. The tentative opening of the memorial museum is late summer of 2001.

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