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South Jersey

Thursday, September 3, 1998

New Jersey battleship panel set to visit Bayonne today

Courier-Post Staff

Bayonne officials will host the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission today in an effort to convince the panel that their city is better than Camden or Jersey City as a future home for the state's namesake ship.

It is the commission's last visit to any of the proposed ports before it makes its site selection at a meeting planned for next Thursday at the State House in Trenton, said Commission Chairman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth.

"My administration has been working hard to return this historic vessel to our community," Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, also a Democratic assemblyman in Hudson County, said of the USS New Jersey. "With our great naval history and central location in the North Jersey-New York region, Bayonne is well-positioned to attract thousands of tourists each year to visit the ship."

Azzolina said all three cities would receive fair consideration.

Most of the 14 commission members are expected to attend a presentation today in the Bayonne municipal building and then tour the Military Ocean Terminal, where the New Jersey would be docked as a floating museum if the Bayonne site is chosen.

The warship - the most decorated in U.S. naval history - was stored at Bayonne twice when it was inactive between wars, the first time after World War II. The commission plans to tow the ship to New Jersey from the naval shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., via the Panama Canal before the end of 1999.

On Wednesday, hundreds of 16-inch shells for the ship's large guns arrived at the Earle Naval Weapons Depot in Monmouth County from a Navy ordnance depot in Indiana. The shells would be displayed on the ship if the Navy approves its donation to New Jersey.

This year the U.S. Senate and House each passed different versions of legislation that would release the ship from the Navy's reserve fleet and make it available for donation to a nonprofit group for a museum. When Congress returns this month, the House-Senate Conference Committee is expected to resolve those differences.

While the House bill proposes the ship be released to its home state, the Senate bill stipulated it be released only if the state can meet the Navy's conditions for docking the warship safely and meeting financial criteria.

Maj. Gen. Donald Gardner, director of the USS Intrepid Museum, however, said he has major concerns about having another major naval ship in the New Jersey-New York Harbor that would compete with the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which is docked at piers in midtown Manhattan.

He has predicted that both ships would sink financially if the New Jersey came to either Bayonne or Jersey City.

Camden City and Camden County agencies have so far pledged $4.2 million to dock the ship in Camden. Neither of the other two cities has pledged more than $1 million. The commission said it needs about $7 million to $8 million to tow the ship back, prepare dockage and convert the ship to a museum. It has almost $4 million from special license plate sales and private donations.

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