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South Jersey

June 27, 1998

Bill would let Navy give battleship to state

Courier-Post staff

The heroic battleship USS New Jersey is significantly closer to returning to its namesake state following U.S. Senate approval late Thursday of the defense appropriation act.

The Senate action gave New Jersey a victory over California in the effort to obtain the second of the four Iowa-class battleships for a museum.

Language inserted into the bill by New Jersey Sens. Robert Torricelli and Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats, would allow the Navy to donate the ship as a museum by removing it from reserve status for possible reactivation.

'It's a good day for New Jersey. New Jersey won a significant battle between states and powerful military and civilian interests,' Torricelli said.

Once the bill becomes law, the Navy will be able to consider the Battleship New Jersey Commission request or any other application to bring the ship back to New Jersey as a floating museum. The commission is proposing to berth the ship, now mothballed in Bremerton, Wash., at Ocean Marine Terminal in Bayonne across from Staten Island in the lower New York Harbor.

Meanwhile, a South Jersey coalition is forging ahead to develop a proposal for the ship to come home to the Camden Waterfront on the Delaware River near its birthplace.

'The ship has served its country for more than 50 years with distinction as a decorated veteran of foreign wars and international conflicts,' said Lautenberg, a World War II veteran. 'Now she will act as a living memorial to the men and women who gave their lives in sacrifice to freedom and liberty at the same time that it serves as an educational museum for all Americans.'

The House passed a similar proposal in May. However, because the House defense bill carries different language on the future of the battleship, the final legislation likely will not be worked out by a conference committee until the fall, according to the senators. Until then, the Navy cannot consider any applications from any group that may want the ship.

What the Senate proposal means is that the USS Iowa would replace the New Jersey on the reserve list, frustrating California's effort to bring that ship there as a museum. The House version states specifically that the New Jersey must go to its home state.

'We're very pleased with the Senate action. We have been working on this for 20 years now,' said state Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, chairman of the New Jersey Battleship Commission. 'Once the Navy lets it go, we have to be ready to move.'

State Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, said he and Camden Mayor Milton Milan have been invited to appear at a battleship commission meeting next month in Jersey City to discuss the future home of the ship.

'We are simply asking the battleship commission for the opportunity to have South Jersey's voice heard and are appreciative of the commission's offer to hear us in the near future,' Matheussen said.<

'Our Waterfront can provide the tourists needed to bring the battleship here since Philadelphia attracts 3 million of them a year. The river has the channel depth, the berthing and a strong supportive transportation system on land and on the water. We have tremendous support from an economic development and financial standpoint from interested parties on both sides of the river.'

Matheussen and Democratic Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones are members of a newly formed interest group that includes the Delaware River Port Authority, Camden County Improvement Authority, Philadelphia Tourism Office, Cooper's Ferry Development Corp. and Camden County Veterans Office.

So far 45 municipalities in South Jersey have passed resolution in support of the ship coming to Camden as a tourist attraction. In addition, Matheussen said he has received a citizens petition with more than 1,000 signatures of people favoring the Camden location.

Matheussen and Jones said the group has been meeting to formulate a physical and financial plan for the berthing and maintenance of the ship in the Delaware River in Camden.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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