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South Jersey

October 03, 1999

Bayonne battleship site lacks crucial approval

Courier-Post staff

MOUNT HOLLY - The New Jersey Battleship Commission lacks a critical approval necessary to place the state's namesake battleship at a pier in Bayonne, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Without corps approval, the commission's quest to obtain the ship from the Navy for a floating museum at Bayonne - the only competition for a site along the Camden Waterfront - could be in jeopardy.

"It (the commission) has not even applied for a construction permit for permanent mooring," said Joe Seebode, chief of regulatory operations for the corps' New York District, which includes North Jersey.

"We have been notified by the commission that they will likely be seeking approval of a permanent mooring on the south side of the Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne on the Port Jersey channel, but they have not made a formal request yet. We understand the Camden site already has its approvals."

The battleship left Bremerton, Wash., last month under tow and is now along the Pacific coast of Mexico en route to the Panama Canal and its temporary berth in Philadelphia. It will remain on the Delaware River, where it was built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in the early 1940s, until the Navy decides which city will become its permanent home.

The Navy requires a docking site meet all technical requirements, including regulatory approvals from the agency that controls the navigable waters in that location.

Navy officials said they give each applicant "sufficient time" to respond to questions during the application review process, but can eliminate any applicant that does not meet the minimum requirements for local, state or federal approvals.

Retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler said the Camden site proposed by the Homeport Alliance, a regional nonprofit group that submitted the Camden application, has the necessary regulatory approvals. He declined comment on the commission's Bayonne application.

Seebode said the review process for a battleship mooring in Bayonne could take anywhere from six weeks to months if environmental or navigational questions arise.

Because the Navy has set a deadline of early January by which to make its decision, it is unclear whether the commission could obtain its approvals in time - or even if the site will qualify for such a permit.

Apparently, the state-sanctioned commission submitted its application to the Navy May 17 without full regulatory approvals.

Recently, battleship commission chairman Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, appeared before the Harbor Safety, Navigation and Operations Committee, an advisory group representing maritime interests in the New York-New Jersey port, and asked for its blessing on the Bayonne berth.

Harbor pilots, however, questioned the difficulty of maneuvering around a battleship in the Port Jersey channel. They said shallow water on one side of the entrance from the main harbor channel, coupled with the larger size of today's container ships, already makes it tricky to enter the Global/Auto Marine Terminal directly across from the Bayonne pier.

There are government plans and some funding available to dredge the shallow area, known as the Jersey Flats. But Corps officials said the timetable for completion is the summer of 2002.

Before a frustrated Azzolina left, he pounded a fist on a table and told the port group they would be giving the battleship to Camden if they did not agree to sanction the Bayonne site, according to several people who attended the meeting.

"I was very surprised to hear they did not have these type of approvals on a Navy application submitted on May 17. Based on the geography of the areas, one would have to say there are a lot more questions on the Bayonne site than the Camden site," said Lt. Commander Chris Nichols, vessel traffic branch chief for Coast Guard Activities New York and a Somerdale native who was at that meeting.

Battleship commission spokesman Gordon Bishop said he could not comment specifically on which approvals the commission has. He said Azzolina is working with the commission's technical team on what he called "tying up loose ends" with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Azzolina was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

"October will be the windup period. Knowing the Navy, they can keep this review process open for as long as necessary," Bishop said.

"The Navy is doing a thorough job asking questions, and we're optimistic. They asked a second round of questions to Bayonne but not to Camden. If Bayonne does not have all the approvals necessary, I think that is rather telling and could be a significant factor," said Rep. James Saxton, R-N.J., who supports the Camden site.

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