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South Jersey

July 8, 1998

Camden, 2 other cities in running for battleship

Courier-Post staff

The Battleship New Jersey Commission meeting today may become a battleground between three cities vying to secure the famous USS New Jersey for a museum.

Camden, Bayonne and Jersey City officials all want the most decorated battleship in naval history although the commission most recently has been favoring Bayonne.

Mayors and others representing the three cities are planning to attend the meeting in Jersey City to present reasons why their sites should be considered. Now that the U.S. Senate has agreed to release the ship with details to be worked out with the House by the fall, the commission hopes to bring to the ship from Bremerton, Wash., to its namesake state next year if the Navy approves the site.

Camden Mayor Milton Milan and many other South Jersey politicians believe the ship belongs in Camden across from its birthplace in 1943 on the Delaware River at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Milan and state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, will make the bipartisan South Jersey presentation.

Keith Walker, an aide to Milan, said the ship would foster further economic development along the Waterfront in what is now an urban enterprise zone.

'Our Empowerment Zone board has $21 million in federal money to use for economic development along the river and some of that may be able to be put toward a tourism project like this. We are hoping to raise enough money through a coalition of groups that would include the South Jersey Port Corp. and the Delaware River Port Authority,' said Frank Fulbrook, a member of the empowerment board.

Battleship commission chairman Joseph Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County, said the Ocean Marine Terminal in Bayonne has become the 'leading candidate' because dredging and bedrock excavation at Liberty Park in Jersey City would make that location too expensive to consider at this time. In addition, the National Park Service and other agencies would have to approve a Liberty Park site, which some say would detract from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

He conceded last week, however, that the Bayonne marine terminal could prove to be only a temporary site.

In a recent letter to Matheussen, Gov. Christie Whitman wrote that Bayonne would be only temporary while 'a permanent site at Liberty State Park is being prepared.'

Azzolina also said he believes it makes more sense to locate the ship closer to New York City because it draws more tourists than the Philadelphia area.

'Frankly, I do not know how extensively the battleship commission looked at any of these sites, but we think we have the premier site,' said Matheussen, who expects to invite commission members to visit the Camden Waterfront.

The commission has raised almost $4 million through the sale of commemorative license plates to state drivers and from private donations and a checkoff on state income tax forms. However, no specific location was ever attached to those donations.

South Jerseyans also have leveled criticism against the commission because it has no members from their part of the state.

Joseph Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp., has now been nominated by Whitman to a commission seat but has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Balzano said the ship easily could be berthed at the port's Beckett Street Terminal just south of the Sony Entertainment Center on the Camden Waterfront.

'What we have to offer, Bayonne can't even match - both docking and being directly across from Philadelphia. It was built here and the Delaware Valley has more than 200 years of shipbuilding history here - a connection that is more meaningful than the fact the ship was in famous battles,' Balzano said Tuesday.

Gordon Bishop, director of the fund-raising Battleship New Jersey Foundation, predicted that the ship will go to Liberty Park or wherever else the public may want it.

'The people - not the politicians - will prevail and right now the people think the best location is Liberty State Park,' he said.

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