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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
 
South Jersey

September 06, 1999

Lawmaker fights to get ship berthed in North Jersey

By ARON PILHOFER
Gannett State Bureau

For the better part of 20 years, Joseph Azzolina has lived, eaten and breathed the Battleship New Jersey.

The Monmouth County assemblyman has headed the New Jersey Battleship Commission since 1980, when Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed him. In that time, Azzolina and other commissioners have worked to find a way to bring the ship back to the state and locate an appropriate final port.

Although the Navy will make the final decision, and proponents of a South Jersey location disagree, Azzolina thinks the commission has found the perfect site: the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne.

Last year, the commission voted to recommend the city as the permanent home for the battleship, which will be converted to a floating museum. Azzolina believes the Navy will come to the same conclusion when it decides sometime this winter between Bayonne and a competing site along the Camden Waterfront in South Jersey.

"I have personally given, since 1980, my heart and soul to this, along with others and members of the commission," he said.

Azzolina, himself a Navy veteran of World War II and Korea, served 42 years in active duty and reserves, retiring with the rank of captain. In 1983, he served as an unpaid special assistant to the captain aboard the New Jersey. But he said he put those experiences aside in making a recommendation for the ship's future.

"We looked at what is best for the ship. That's the way the Navy should be looking at it."

But that's not how South Jersey officials saw it. As soon as the commission made its recommendation, Camden proponents cried foul because only one member was from South Jersey and he was a late addition.

The Camden County Freeholders even filed a lawsuit, which they later dropped, accusing the Battleship Commission of violating the law by selecting a museum site without adequate analysis. Azzolina said geography or bias had nothing to do with the decision.

"If I had my druthers I would put it in Central Jersey, but I didn't think in those terms," he said.

It's a question of economics: A museum in North Jersey, just across the river from New York, will attract more visitors, he said.

"You have to put these ships where it is heavily populated and where there are tourists. We want it to be self-supporting, and we want to maximize the numbers of visitors and the use of the ship," Azzolina said. "You have to maintain the decking, the interior. And it's not a cheap ship to maintain."

The commission cited security and proximity of emergency services as additional advantages of the Bayonne site. USS New Jersey Home Page



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