battleship end up in South Jersey?
USS New Jersey debate continues
Camden and Bayonne both want
to be thr final home port for the USS New Jersey. The battleship,
built and launched in Philadelphia in the early 1940's, was decommissioned
for good in 1991. The Navy will decide on a home port by January.
By CAROL COMEGNO
Horan can hardly wait for the historic battleship USS New Jersey
to begin its long tow next week around North and Central America
scheduled to return in November to its Delaware River
As the ship prepares
to move toward Philadelphia, the Navy continues to weigh which
New Jersey city
Camden or Bayonne
will become its
final home. A former signalman on its first crew during World
War II and one of the the first to buy a commemorative state
license plate depicting the ship, the Cherry Hill resident supports
the Camden-based Home Port Alliance's effort to keep the ship
in the Delaware River as a floating museum
from where it was built more than 55 years ago.
"This is where
she belongs and the location is great," said Horan, 75,
holding a small fragment of the ship's original teak deck that
he has kept all these years. He talked about making a personal
trip to Panama to see the ship through the canal as he did in
1944 on board as a signalman.
While former crew members
do not all agree on the final resting place, most concur on one
point in this ongoing controversy between Camden and Bayonne:
The ship will come home to its namesake state at last.
"What's most important
is that it will be in New Jersey where it belongs. That's what
I want to see. Of course, I would rather see it in New York Harbor
because I live closer and because that area is more populated,"
said Vincent Falso of Mountainside, Union County, president of
the Battleship New Jersey Historical Museum Society.
of opinion between ex-crew, other military veterans and politicians
over the battleship's final home port is indicative of the intense
competition between the two proposed sites the Navy is considering
Camden in the southern part of the state and Bayonne in
the more politically powerful north.
U.S. Navy Secretary
Richard Danzig said the Navy is evaluating the applications to
determine whether they meet "rigorous technical, financial
and curatorial requirements."
the outcome of the process, the Navy is confident the battleship
will be revered and well cared for by the state of New Jersey,"
Danzig wrote in a recent letter to several congressmen.
Navy officials are
saying nothing publicly about the progress of their review of
the two closely guarded, confidential applications to the Navy's
Ship Donation Program. But spokesmen for the applicants said
the process is in the initial "question and answer"
stage. A decision is expected by January. Since the spring, the
proposed Camden site on a yet-to-be-built pier near the E-Centre
south of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge has quietly gained political
momentum in Washington, primarily due to the lobbying efforts
of Rep. James Saxton, R-N.J., a member of the House Committee
on National Security. Camden has won the support of the U.S.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 22 congressmen
from New Jersey and three surrounding states
Delaware and New York. About eight New Jersey congressmen are
backing the Bayonne site.
The Navy promises a
fair review and a decision based on the merits of the applications,
but former Navy officers say both state and Washington politics
ultimately may play a part in the decision.
If only one city qualifies
technically and financially, the Navy could begin negotiating
a contract earlier than its self-imposed January deadline. If
both sites qualify, the Navy Executive Advisory Panel will weigh
the merits of each proposal and make a recommendation to the
Navy secretary, Danzig said in his letter.
Retired Navy Capt.
David McGuigan of Haddonfield, president of the Home Port Alliance,
said a comparison would mean intense scrutiny of each site's
historical significance to the ship, site benefits to the Navy
and community support.
"We are very comfortable
with our application,'' McGuigan said. ``We believe that we have
more things going for Camden than Bayonne does
port, more local financial support, a more historically significant
site, and more visibility for the Navy since the Philadelphia
naval base and shipyard are now closed.''
State battleship commission
officials also believe their application will prevail.
"Sometime in November
the Navy will wind down the Q&A and we'll then
wait for the Navy to make a decision," commission spokesman
Gordon Bishop said.
He said the commission
is "more and more optimistic as each week passes" and
hailed the Bayonne site because it is near the ``Gateway to America.''
To ensure fairness
to both applicants, Republican Gov. Christie Whitman took two
steps this year: She first wrote a letter of neutrality in May,
reversing her long-held position that she would endorse whatever
site was recommended by the battleship commission, which had
selected Bayonne. All state monies raised for the ship, which
now total about $8 million, would go with the Navy's chosen site.
And to avoid the appearance
of favoritism, she appointed the state Department of Military
and Veterans Affairs to handle the contract for the estimated
$2 million tow of the ship from Bremerton, Wash., through the
Panama Canal to New Jersey, rather than allow the battleship
commission to sign the contract. Nevertheless, the governor will
have input into the Navy decision.
"The process will
render a recommendation to me, and I will consult with the governor
of the state of New Jersey in making a final decision,"
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig wrote to Saxton and other congressmen
in a July 30 letter obtained by the Courier-Post.
Rita Wilks of the Naval Sea Systems Command said the secretary
``will consult (the governor), but the decision is the secretary's
the possible negative impact of the ongoing federal investigation
into alleged political corruption by Camden Mayor Milton Milan
on the Home Port Alliance's application. Milan was not named
to the alliance board until July.
"The Camden City
government is not the applicant. The USS New Jersey Memorial
will be managed by the Home Port Alliance board of trustees.
The alliance is a nonprofit, regional group representing all
areas of South Jersey and includes business, labor, elected officials,
military veterans and others," he said. The city, which
has suffered serious financial problems, never pledged any money
to the project, although Camden County freeholders and a federal
empowerment zone board have committed $4.2 million to the project.
What does make the
Home Port Alliance uneasy is Danzig's intent to consult Whitman
before sending his decision to Congress for a 60-day review period.
"This is of some concern," McGuigan said. "It
could mean the Navy will not make a determination that is not
acceptable to the governor. She could also remain neutral and
leave the decision to the Navy."
However, state Sen.
John Matheuseen, R-Gloucester, a co-founder of the Home Port
Alliance, said he believes the governor will not take sides.
Horan believes residents
in the central and northern parts of the state have a misconception
about the appearance of the Camden-Philadelphia Waterfront.
"They hear only
bad things about Camden, how there are poor people and crime.
But they've never been to the Camden Waterfront, or to Philly
for that matter, and don't realize how beautiful it is, especially
between Penn's Landing and Wiggins Park," Horan said.
"What kind of
waterfront does Bayonne have?" he said. "It's a former
military terminal, much of which is desolate and which can't
be seen from the city at all or from most of the harbor.''
Ex-crewman Horan objects
to what he calls ``bullying'' by battleship commission chairman
Joseph Azzolina, who has criticized the Camden site and leaders
of the Home Port Alliance as Johnny-come-latelies. However, Horan
and others admit Azzolina must be given much of the credit for
bringing the battleship to New Jersey.
"He has dedicated
20 years of his life trying to get it here and you have to admire
him as a great man for that," said Joseph Balzano, executive
director the South Jersey Port Corp. and one of two new South
Jersey members of the state's battleship commission.
Most former crew members
from South Jersey favor the Camden site near the Philadelphia
Naval Shipyard. The USS New Jersey was launched during World
War II, later becoming the most decorated ship in U.S. naval
history with 16 battle stars. Central and northern Jersey crew
members tend to favor the Bayonne site recommended by the state
battleship commission last year.
Meanwhile, state officials
are proposing a ceremony be held in Panama on board the ship
just before it traverses the canal. The battleship commission
and the Home Port Alliance both are expected to have delegations
at the canal for the ship's Oct. 17 to 20 transit, as well as
in Bremerton for the ship's departure, tentatively set for Sept.
"I think it's
important we have representation at both places because these
are significant events for the ship," said Matheussen.
is a very big day and a very rewarding one because so much effort
has been extended by so many people to get the ship here,"
said Saxton. He called the endorsement by the secretary of Housing
and Urban Development "very significant."
Liz Thomas of the state-hired
Thomas Boyd public relations firm of Moorestown said negotiations
for a shipboard ceremony began last week in Panama with the U.S.
ambassador there and the Panama Canal Commission. That prompted
the Navy to send two representatives to the meetings.
spokesman Bishop calls the historic transit of the ship "a
great photo op" that would be foolish for Whitman to ignore.
"She is the chief
executive but she is also a U.S. Senate candidate and the state
will probably pick up the tab for her visit," he said.
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