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South Jersey

June 9, 1998

USS New Jersey panel to visit Camden

Courier-Post staff

JERSEY CITY - The Battleship New Jersey Commission will visit Camden to inspect a possible Delaware River site for the USS New Jersey.

Commission chairman and state Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, made the commitment Wednesday just before officials from Camden, Bayonne and Jersey City made pitches to become the permanent home of the most decorated battleship in naval history once it is released by the Navy for use as a floating history museum.

'We are going to go down to Camden and look at that site,' Azzolina promised at a commission meeting at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, one of the potential sites.

He also pledged the commission would review the proposals fairly and not 'favor one city over another because of politics.'

'It will be based on what's best for the ship, the people and where it can be marketed to pay for itself,' he said.

Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, and Camden County Freeholder Pat Jones said they were pleased by the planned visit, which they said will come sometime within the next few weeks. Jones said the decision where to put the ship should not be a 'North-South issue.'

'Clearly we are the underdogs, but that was our first goal - to get them to Camden,' Jones said afterward.

'We need them to see it and touch it and meet some of the people here who have made history with the ship and who are in touch with the ship and shipbuilding. In 1992 we had a committee formed, but nobody was listening.'

Following presentations from the three cities, Azzolina declined to comment specifically on any of them, saying the commission would review them and expects to make a decision in about a month.

However, he said he saw 'holes' in some proposals that would be reviewed by commission engineers.

The commission took one action Wednesday in its ongoing effort to bring the ship to its namesake state. It voted to negotiate a contract with Crowley Marine Services of Seattle to tow the ship from Bremerton, Wash., to New Jersey next year, possibly by spring but definitely before the United States turns the Panama Canal over to Panama at the end of 1999.

About $4 million has been raised from donations and the sale of state commemorative license plates.

'It was all very interesting and I will be looking forward to visiting Camden,' said newly appointed commissioner Joseph Dyer of Pennsville, a former Salem County Republican freeholder, county administrator and Korean War Navy veteran who was attending his first commission meeting.

'I was first told when I was selected for this job that all the decisions had been made, but since then I've been told everything really is up in the air,' he said later.

Both Camden and Bayonne touted historical connections to the ship. And officials from all three cities said their respective proposal was the most affordable, but few cost figures or comparisons were given or made available.

The ship was built on the Delaware River at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard across from Camden in the 1940s.

'Transportation-wise, economy-wise and history-wise, this site should be looked at. We have the channel depth and the piers and we feel we could have it ready in short order and can do it more cheaply than anyone else,' Matheussen told the commission.

Though Camden is one of the poorest cities in the country, he said it is in the midst of a Waterfront revitalization. It already has attractions like the N.J. State Aquarium with 500,000 visitors a year and is across from Philadelphia, which also has waterfront attractions and 20.6 million visitors a year.

The two waterfronts will be connected via a soon-to-be-constructed aerial tram.

Newly-elected Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, also a state assemblyman, flatly said Bayonne was the best spot.

'I can understand the interest of Camden . . . I believe the ship belongs in Bayonne,' said Doria, D-Hudson, He cited the fact the ship was mothballed there twice since World War II, when it helped win victory in the Pacific.

He also said he believed the Navy would approve dockage at the closed Military Ocean Terminal, which will be turned over to the city next year for redevelopment. The north end of the terminal, just south of Liberty State Park, also has a view of the Statue of Liberty.

Jersey City officials revised their long-standing proposal, suggesting the ship be berthed several hundred yards offshore in the New Jersey-New York harbor between Ellis Island and the Central Railroad of New Jersey Building in Liberty State Park. The city's original proposal to dock the ship along the shoreline would have meant expensive bedrock blasting and dredging and even more federal and state agency approvals.

The commission has been leaning toward Bayonne at least as a temporary site because of the dredging expense at Liberty Park, but the new proposal to put the ship offshore raised some eyebrows.

Whether the Navy ever would approve such a plan in a such a busy harbor is unclear.

Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler said Liberty State Park attracts 3.5 million visitors a year and placing the ship in the harbor would make it visible and accessible from New York, the most visited big city in the United States.

'The most decorated battleship should be displayed in the most visible place in all the world,' Schundler said.

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