fights to get ship berthed in North Jersey
By ARON PILHOFER
Gannett State Bureau
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
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