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South Jersey

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Battleship Commission floats goofy excuses

We get the impression the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission is trying to pull a gigantic ruse on the people of New Jersey.

We thank Commission Chairman Joseph Azzolina for starting the movement in the '80s to bring the USS New Jersey home. But it's now more of a personal campaign for one strong-willed man to get his way no matter how stupid the decision is.

Until recently, the commission hadn't seen presentations from Camden or Jersey City, allegedly two of three cities in contention to receive the ship from the Navy. Under public pressure, Azzolina, who is also a state Assembly member, finally visited both.

All along, Azzolina talked as if Bayonne were his choice - and, by extension, the commission's. Even so, it wasn't until late last week that the commission formally heard from Bayonne.

You could tell Bayonne has little to offer because of what Azzolina was crowing about. Mainly, he said, there was lots of parking nearby and - this is really grasping for straws - Bayonne is more secure from terrorists.

Terrorists? Not until Azzolina realized Bayonne's shortcomings when compared to Jersey City and Camden did he try to spin international affairs into the mix.

Sure, there is a gated entrance that someone desperate for selling points could call a deterrent to terrorists. But, it would be just as unattractive to tourists.

Sure, there's parking close to the planned docking site: The whole isolated area is abandoned buildings and parking spaces.

Since it is a former military site, there are environmental reports on remediation plans for hazardous wastes like PCBs, petroleum, arsenic and DDT that were dumped, spilled or stored at the terminal over the years.

Azzolina and most commission members said they had not seen the reports. No surprise. Why let a little contamination get in the way of the grand scheme?

Joseph Doria, the top Democrat in the Assembly, is a double-dipper. He's also mayor of - tah dah! - Bayonne. And his argument for putting the New Jersey there is as thin as Azzolina's.

He calls Bayonne the ship's home because it was docked there years ago between military assignments. How goofy.

The USS New Jersey was refitted at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard between wars. But, more important, the most decorated ship in the Navy was built by the men and women of the Delaware Valley.

That's why the campaign to bring the ship home to Camden is "From Birth to Berth."

Bayonne also wasn't able to announce any financial package to match the $4.2 million pledge from Camden's supporters. How does Bayonne plan to turn the ship into a first-class museum, hold a bake sale?

Doria failed to mention the water around there is salty, thus more corrosive to the ship - requiring more expensive maintenance - than the fresh water of the Delaware River.

Doria's other argument is New York City, across the bay, has 53 million tourists a year.

Yes, but New York also has a much bigger ship, the USS Intrepid, not to mention tons of other attractions. No tourist (or terrorist, for that matter) will try to find his way to Bayonne to visit the New Jersey docked amid abandoned warehouses.

Were Azzolina and the commission making an objective study, Bayonne wouldn't even have made the top three.

They're not fooling anyone but themselves.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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