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South Jersey

May 30, 1998

Officials continue fight for battleship

Courier-Post staff

TRENTON - Two South Jersey lawmakers proposed a Senate resolution this week asking the Battleship New Jersey Commission to consider recommending the ship be brought to Camden as a floating museum instead of to Bayonne.

Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, and Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, introduced the resolution Thursday in the latest North-South controversy over the ship.

The USS New Jersey, built in 1942 and the most decorated U.S. battleship, was the World War II flagship of Fleet Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey, a native of Elizabeth, Union County.

Matheussen and Bryant said the battleship makes sense for Camden in every way - tourist-wise, historically and economically - and is the boost Camden needs to help its renewal effort.

'I want Camden to have a fair shot at being considered. It is a very advantageous site on the Delaware River across from attractions on Philadelphia's waterfront and the place where it was built (the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard),' Matheussen said, vowing the issue is 'far from dead.'

However, former state assemblyman and battleship commission chairman Joseph Azzolina confidently predicted it will never get through the Legislature.

'I commend the effort but it is for naught. The commission made the decision on Bayonne,' Azzolina said. 'There is no way you would be in time to change positions because anyone else can apply to the Navy for the ship and we could lose it altogether.'

He said that since Gov. Christie Whitman has endorsed the Bayonne site, he doubts the Legislature would ever challenge the site. 'It might get through the Senate, but I know the Assembly will never get enough votes to get it through.'

In an interview, Matheussen raised the issue of commission authority to decide on a specific site for the ship when it submitted an application to the Navy for the ship two years ago.

The commission's enabling legislation empowers it to provide 'assistance and advice' in planning and fund raising.

'The commission never had the authority to decide where the site was. It was only empowered to make a recommendation,' Matheussen said.

'I don't know exactly who would decide since the legislation does not say, but I would think it would be the Legislature since much of the money was raised through state motor vehicle sales of battleship New Jersey license plates.'

The Legislature passed resolutions in January again asking the Navy to release the New Jersey for use as a museum. It mentions the ship was placed in the master plan of the Military Ocean Terminal Reuse Commission in Bayonne but does not indicate who approved a Bayonne site.

Recently,Camden County freeholders also passed a resolution supporting a Camden site and asked the Camden County Improvement Authority and other groups to look into the financing of the project.

Commission officials have said other sites like Camden were studied but have been reluctant to release or discuss those reports. The Bayonne site was a second choice to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, where dredging bedrock would have raised costs prohibitively.

Azzolina said the Bayonne site, a salt-water port, was selected for several major reasons - easy access to the New Jersey Turnpike and proximity to New York City, the largest tourist destination in the Northeast.

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