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South Jersey

Friday, September 4, 1998

Battleship panel sees Bayonne

Photos by Avi Steinhardt, Courier-Post

BAYONNE: Battleship Commission member William Faherty (foreground) and chairman Joseph Azzolina examine pier.

Courier-Post staff

BAYONNE - The New Jersey Battleship Commission was able to do something here Thursday that it could not in similar visits to Camden and neighboring Jersey City.

Though haze and smog obscured a distant Manhattan skyline, commissioners stood on the actual pier where the battleship USS New Jersey would dock if they select Bayonne as the museum site for the return of the ship to New Jersey from Washington state.

The commission meets Thursday at noon in Trenton to decide.

While most commissioners were noncommittal or declined comment about their visit to the last of three proposed sites for the ship, many were impressed with security at the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne and with its newly renovated concrete pier and its freshly painted, daffodil-yellow mooring posts.

"Security and location are the main considerations," said commission Chairman Joseph Azzolina, also a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County, who recently had endorsed a temporary mooring in Bayonne.

"The three sites all have their pluses and minuses. We'll do what's best for the ship and the public," he said after a bus tour.

Some commissioners, like Joseph Dyer of Pennsville, Salem County, and Eugene Simko of Middletown, Monmouth County, agreed Bayonne did not have as beautiful a waterfront setting as either Camden or Jersey City.

"The river aesthetics can't compare," said Dyer.

However, Simko said he prefers the landside dockage like Bayonne has for security reasons and likes the idea of walking part of the way alongside the ship to appreciate its length of nearly three football fields - 887 feet.

BATTLE CRIES: Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria Jr. makes his pitch to the Battleship Commission for bringing the USS New Jersey to his town.
Bayonne's mayor and state Assemblyman Joseph Doria, D-Hudson, said the city wants the commission to bring the ship back to where it was kept in Navy fleet storage twice since World War II.

"The first time it touched New Jersey was when it came to the ocean terminal. We don't want to degrade any other city in our presentation. We believe our military history here at the Military Ocean Terminal and our proximity to New York and its 53 million tourists a year make it the best spot for the ship," said Doria, who offered no financial package to compete with Camden's $4.2 million pledge.

He said channel and berthing dredging that would be required will be done at no cost to the city by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The site at North Pier at the end of the peninsula is more than a mile's drive from the entrance to the military terminal.

Camden proposed placing the ship slightly into the Delaware River to better display it and Jersey City suggested a similar but longer T-shaped walkway and pier out into New York Harbor. Both piers would have to be built.

There are no other tourist attractions adjacent to the more industrial Bayonne site. The military terminal is filled with old Army warehouses and other buildings, many of which the mayor said have already been abandoned and eventually will be torn down.

Looking north at the ship from the dock is the distant Manhattan skyline and a container cargo operation on the next pier. Staten Island is to the southeast.

On the more desolate south side of the peninsula and close to the now gated entrance of the terminal, bulldozers are moving earth for a shopping mall and a golf course - the first in Hudson County - is planned. An entertainment complex and business center is also in the planning stage, but the public authority that would operate the tract and enter into agreements with private enterprise for development has yet to be created. A new light rail system will have two stops outside the terminal but will not extend to the peninsula waterfront.

The military will begin turning over the 437-acre terminal - a victim of reduced defense spending - to the city next summer.

Most of the commissioners, including Azzolina, said they have never seen the environmental reports on remediation plans for hazardous wastes like PCBs, petroleum, arsenic and DDT that had been dumped, spilled or stored at the terminal over the years.

However, Doria said there is little contamination and that it is not near the pier.

Frank Perrucci, president of Bayonne for the Battleship New Jersey Inc., said veteran's groups care about the ship and want it back, but resident John Ormsby put a crimp in the Bayonne presentation when he said the city's presentation was poor compared to Jersey City's - a fact disputed by the commission.

"Bayonne can kiss the USS New Jersey good-bye," predicted Ormsby, chairman of the city Memorial Day committee.

Another Bayonne resident who attended, Paul Yuschak, said he believes the North Pier should be used for economic development. "What we need is tax revenue not a tax-exempt operation," he said.

CALL TO ORDER: Joseph Azzolina (center), chairman of the Battleship Commission, prepares to begin the hearing at which Bayonne made its final pitch for the USS New Jersey. A model of the battleship sits in the foreground.

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