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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
 
South Jersey

July 20, 1998

Local man on panel to move battleship

By KIM MULFORD
Courier-Post staff

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a gray plastic model of the USS New Jersey sat on the dining room table of Joseph Dyer's home in Pennsville.

The newest member of the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission borrowed the model from his grandson, who had carefully assembled it.

A map of New York Harbor was spread beside it. Five possible berth positions were indicated by inch-long rectangles.

Dyer sifted through documents from the commission and letters from politicians.

'I do my homework when I'm responsible for something,' he said.

Dyer's appointment, confirmed by the state Senate on March 31, makes him the only member of the commission to live south of Princeton. The commission has 14 members and eight vacancies chaired by Joseph Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman from Middletown. It was created to return the most decorated ship in Navy history to its namesake state.

The battleship is moored in Bremerton, Wash., and a bill is moving through Congress to send it to New Jersey.

The commission will recommend a site for the ship possibly as early as next month, and Gov. Christie Whitman has said she will approve it.

Bayonne, Camden and Jersey City are competing to become the site. Camden claims to be the ship's genuine home, since the New Jersey was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Dyer's maritime interests stem from three years as a radarman first class on the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea during the Korean War. Retired, he is in his ninth year as president of the USS Philippine Sea Association.

He regularly visits museum ships around the country, including the New Jersey in Bremerton.

Dyer, 69, a Salem County freeholder from 1970 to 1990, was recommended by the county Republican committee.

'I was going through the listing in the Legislative Manual and I realized all the members were all from up there in Hudson (County),' he recalls. 'As a Navy veteran who's very active in my own organization, I felt someone needed to be on there who had some affiliation with the Navy.

'One of my friends, Jay Stradley, was the South Jersey representative, but he died about five years ago. So, I inquired.'

Dyer said he was not advised in advance of the commission's last meeting, in Jersey City July 8.

'I called up there and said, 'Hey, the governor made this appointment in March. Here it is July. Aren't you guys having any meetings?' '

He said he was told someone had 'dropped the ball.'

'If I hadn't made an inquiry, I might have missed that meeting,' he said.

At the meeting, representatives of Bayonne and Jersey City gave cost estimates for moving the ship to each city. Camden did not offer any figures.

Dyer regarded the estimates skeptically. 'The first (thing) I want to do is find out what the actual facts and myths are,' he said. 'What are the real costs?

'You have to have access to deep water. You have to have access to lots of visitors. As the chairman mentioned, the only way this is going to become a reality is if this can stand by itself. Will it generate enough to take care of itself when it's there?

'I'm keeping an open mind on the whole thing (but) my personal preference is certainly closer to us, closer to South Jersey.'

Nevertheless, he noted, 'The bulk of the population of the state exists above Princeton, so that's where people's decisions are going to be looked at.'

Though Azzolina has said the issue is not about politics, Dyer listed the politicians pulling for North Jersey: Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, the Democratic Assembly minority leader, and Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler from Hudson County, 'one of the strongest Democratic strongholds in the whole state.'

'The chairman says this is not a political issue, but he's also an assemblyman right now,' Dyer said, with a wry chuckle. 'There's certainly a little bit of political pressure.'

Dyer said Bayonne and Jersey City each had its own cheering sections at the last meeting, but there were not many people from Camden.

Another obstacle is 'the reputation of Camden as being a poor city,' Dyer said.

'They've got to say, 'OK, if it comes to Camden, we will supply da-da, da-da, da-da, funds, advertising - those are the kinds of things the Camden Economic Development Office needs to do. They have to be out front.

'They're not going to just move down there because the people say that.'



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