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South Jersey

May 7, 1998

Bringing battleship to Camden an uphill battle

Courier-Post staff

Hoping to reverse a decision that might permanently dock the battleship USS New Jersey on the Hudson River in Bayonne, state Sen. John Matheussen and Camden Mayor Milton Milan are aggressively campaigning to bring the warship to South Jersey.

Matheussen, R-Gloucester, and Milan have sent letters to every municipality and freeholder board in Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and Atlantic counties asking them to support the docking of the 887-foot ship on Camden's waterfront.

The New Jersey is the most decorated warship in naval history and there are plans to make it into a museum. It was built and launched at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard into the Delaware River 56 years ago.

Matheussen and Milan argue that the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission, a state body created to provide for the battleship's preservation, has never given them the opportunity to make a case for docking the ship in South Jersey.

'We appreciate the commission's effort to bring the battleship back to New Jersey, but we believe the best location for our battleship is her home turf of South Jersey,' said Matheussen. 'We have been dismissed in the past when we have approached the commission with the idea of bringing it to South Jersey.'

The Battleship Commission, which has been working since 1980 to bring the ship to New Jersey, maintains that Bayonne's Military Ocean Terminal is the best site for the battleship. The New Jersey, one of four original Iowa-class battleships, served in World War II during assaults on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and in the Korean and Vietnam wars. It was decommissioned in 1991 off the coast of Washington state.

Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, the commission's chairman, said places such as Atlantic City, Cape May, Long Branch and even Camden were considered.

'The commission has looked at other sites,' Azzolina said. 'It wouldn't work in the Camden area. The tourist population is not as high in the Philadelphia region like it is in New York City.'

Gordon Bishop, the director of fund-raising for the Battleship New Jersey Foundation, said it's hard to reverse progress. The foundation already has raised about $3.5 million to bring the ship to North Jersey.

'This is an 11th-hour attempt to undo 18 years of work by the Battleship Commission,' said Bishop.

He said about 35 million people visit New York City each year. And that means lots of tourists who would trek to Bayonne to visit the USS New Jersey.

Resolutions in the state Senate and Assembly call on the secretary of the U.S. Navy to release the battleship USS New Jersey to the state of New Jersey. Bayonne was mentioned as a possible site for it to be docked, but the resolution is not binding.


A spokesman for Gov. Christie Whitman said the governor is 'willing to live with the commission's decision,' adding she is happy the battleship is coming to the state.

'Between Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts, we get over 3 million tourists,' said Milan. 'Bayonne gets zero.'

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