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South Jersey

Wednesday, August 19, 1998

North Jersey sites are opposed for ship

Courier-Post Staff

The aircraft carrier Intrepid and the battleship USS New Jersey fought on the same side in World War II. But they could sink each other if the battleship ever comes to the New York harbor area.

That argument by retired Maj. Gen. Donald Gardner, executive director of the Intrepid Museum Foundation in New York City, could favor an effort to get the New Jersey docked permanently in Camden.

Gardner said the competition in New York area ports could hurt the finances of both ships' operations if the New Jersey Battleship Commission tries to locate the battleship in Bayonne or Jersey City's Liberty State Park when the ship is moved from Bremerton, Wash.

"Anybody who makes a conscious decision to put two museum ships that close together is not making a sound business decision and is putting both ships in danger," said Gardner, hired several years ago to improve the Intrepid museum's financial picture.

Battleship Commission Chairman Joseph Azzolina disagreed with Gardner.

"Their ship is very richly run and they need a bigger budget. I think he is wrong when he says there will be competition," said Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County. "I think one will enhance or complement the other, and I could see a discount ticket to visit both ships."

But Gardner said he would not like to see another major naval ship museum within a 50-mile radius of the Intrepid and the two other ships that make up its museum - the destroyer Edson and the submarine Growler.

Falling within that distance are two of the three proposed sites for the USS New Jersey - Bayonne and Liberty State Park - that are being studied by the Battleship Commission. The commission's recommendation to the Navy is expected next month.

Only the proposed Delaware River site in Camden across from Philadelphia is beyond that radius - about 100 miles.

The man who represents the state chapter of the USS Intrepid Association, a group of former Intrepid crew members and other volunteers, also believes the battleship should go to South Jersey instead of the New York harbor area.

"The USS New Jersey should come home to where it was built on the Delaware River," said John A. Simonetti of Collingswood.

The New Jersey - the most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history and a survivor of four wars - was built in the 1940s at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard by workers from New Jersey as well as Pennsylvania. That site is just down and across the river from the proposed Camden dock site at the South Jersey Port Corp. overlooking Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.

Guy Archambault, a retired Navy captain and president of the Historic Naval Ships Association, also said the Intrepid and the New Jersey could harm each other financially.

"There seems to be a perception that if you get a ship, everybody will come, but that is not always so," said Archambault, who operates the USS Massachusetts museum in Fall River, Mass.

"You get a mighty ship like the Intrepid and just across the river you have another mighty ship; one may detract from the other."

Gardner said the Intrepid, docked at a pier at 46th Street and 12th Avenue in midtown Manhattan across the river from New Jersey, has seen a 7 percent increase in visitors this year and a 10 percent increase last year.

However, he said the admission of up to $10 per person does not cover all operating expenses - $9 million yearly for his three ships.

"You can't pay for all your operating expenses for a big ship with admissions. We make a lot of our money from holding special events like cocktail parties and dinners, sometimes for more than 2,000 people," Gardner said.

He also said he would prefer to have any ship in fresh water, such as the Delaware, rather than the salt water of New York area harbors.

All the sites face other hurdles, from Army Corps of Engineers approvals to Coast Guard review.

Coast Guard Capt. Larry Brooks, stationed at the Port of New York, said Army Corps and Coast Guard approvals would be required at all three proposed sites for issues such as dredging and proximity to shipping channels and tour boat routes.

The Bayonne and Jersey City sites would also be subject to National Park Service review because of their proximity to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Frank Mills, deputy director of the Park Service on Liberty Island, said his agency would be concerned with the visual as well as the historical impacts of locating a ship anywhere near those two monuments.

"We would review the impact on the historical nature of the two resources of Ellis Island and the statue; like what does this do to the experience on Ellis Island?" Mills said. "Is the feel the same? Is the statue view changed? Does it take away from the two islands?"

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