Secretary of Navy signs `Big J' contract
By CAROL COMEGNO
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig signed a long-anticipated contract Thursday to allow the historic battleship New Jersey to become a museum in Camden next year. It also paves the way for it to become a waterfront backdrop during the Republican National Convention this month.
Rep. James Saxton, R-N.J., announced Thursday night that Danzig signed the transfer contract n Washington, D.C. It shifts title of the ship to the Home Port Alliance a bipartisan South Jersey coalition of business, government and labor leaders.
The agreement gives the Navy rights to reclaim the ship if it is not maintained properly or is needed for military reasons.
The decision culminates a two-year quest by the South Jersey group and area congressmen. The Navy announced the winning site in January after an intense competition between the alliance and the New Jersey Battleship commission, which sought to bring the ship to Bayonne.
"I am pleased that the transfer is complete. I am confident that the New Jersey will be proudly displayed in her namesake state as a symbol of her special place in our nation's history," Danzig said in a statement.
David McGuigan of Haddonfield, president of the Home Port Alliance and a retired Navy captain who steered the successful application, called it a "historical day" for everyone who worked hard to bring the ship to the state.
Saxton and Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., both were elated.
"Once the ship is home in the Garden State, we must turn all our attention to transforming it into a first-class naval museum and regional attraction," Saxton said.
At the urging of Gov. Christie Whitman, other Republicans and the Delaware River Port Authority, the alliance plans to tow the ship upriver to the Beckett Street Terminal of the South Jersey Port Corp. in Camden about 9 a.m. Thursday in time for the bistate waterfront celebration July 30 for the Republican convention in Philadelphia.
However, the Navy has yet to approve a detailed tow plan.
The historic ship fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and also saw action off the coast of Lebanon.
Nina Habib Spencer, spokeswoman for Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency in New York, said EPA agreements call for the Home Port Alliance to develop a plan to enclose or remove hazardous material such as PCBs aboard ship for public safety.
The 887-foot-long battleship, built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and launched into the Delaware River in 1942, is moored at what is now a Navy inactive ships facility.
The ship eventually will be moved and renovated at the port corporation's Broadway Terminal in South Camden, where Navy ships were built during and after World War II. It is to open as a museum in late 2001 at a new pier to be built behind the E-Centre on the city's Waterfront across from Penn's Landing.