September 4, 1998|
countdown to future of battleship New Jersey
By JOSEPH AZZOLINA
The moment has arrived.
The USS New Jersey Battleship Commission will vote around
mid-September as to where the most decorated warship in naval
history will be berthed on New Jersey's waterfront.
The commission will make the final decision.
Three waterfront cities, each with its own unique qualities,
have asked to be the home port for this majestic dreadnought.
They are Bayonne, Camden and Jersey City.
Each city has a historic marine setting befitting a national
museum and memorial of the size and scope of the battleship New
Bayonne was the "home" of the New Jersey after both
World War II and the Korean War. The ship was berthed at the
450-acre old naval terminal for maintenance and as part of the
Navy's reserve fleet. The Bayonne site is the largest undeveloped
tract of public land on the Hudson waterfront "gold coast."
Camden, on the lower Delaware River, wants the "Big J"
because she was built in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard across
the river at the outset of World War II.
Jersey City is vying to be the destination for the New Jersey
because local officials believe Liberty State Park would be an
"ideal site" at the gateway to America.
The overriding consideration for the 13-member battleship
commission is safety. The U.S. Navy, which owns the battleship,
will not release the 45,000-ton vessel until it can be demonstrated,
in detailed engineering plans, that the ship can withstand a
100-year storm surge.
SAFETY is our primary concern. Securing the ships safety
and then the public's safety when it opens is the commissions
The New Jersey has been moored since 1990 at the naval yard
in Puget Sound, Bremerton, Wash. The trip home, via the Panama
Canal, is expected to begin next year.
The New Jersey's journey really began in 1974 with the formation
of the Battleship New Jersey Historical Society. The state Legislature
recognized the society's efforts in a resolution adopted in 1976.
In 1980, the Legislature established the battleship commission.
Gov. Brendan Byrne, a Democrat, appointed me, a Republican and
retired Navy captain, as its founding chairman. Bringing the
"Big J" home has been a bipartisan commitment in New
Jersey since day one.
Without the states continuing commitment and the day-to-day
support by some 48,000 N.J. Elks and tens of thousands of veterans,
citizens and businesses, we would not be ready for "D- Day"
(Decision Day) next month.
OUR GOAL is to raise some $20-plus million in three stages
and bring this grand old battleship back to life as the states
premier electronic-interactive education museum and historic
center. The battleship will need to attract more than 400,000
visitors a year to cover its annual operating costs of about
The first phase, costing about $8 million, includes bringing
the ship home, setting it up for visitors and meeting the first
The second phase will cost around $3-plus million for the
onboard "live experience" of a world-class battleship
engaged in combat and its role during peacetime.
The third phase is the complete replacement of the teakwood
deck at a cost of $8 million.
The three phases will take several years.
When fully restored as a museum/historic center, the legendary
New Jersey will be a lasting tribute to veterans of all Armed
The writer is the founding
chairman of the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission, based in
Middletown, and a GOP state assemblyman for the 13th District,
comprising portions of Monmouth and Middlesex counties.