October 9, 1998
fight goes to Congress
By DEBORAH KALB
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON - The battle over where
to berth the historic USS New Jersey intensified Thursday, as
supporters of a Camden site argued at a Capitol Hill hearing
with another faction favoring Bayonne.
The ship, the nation's most decorated ever, is expected to
be sent home to its namesake state as a museum, but Bayonne,
Camden and Jersey City are competing for the rights to host it.
Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones, state Sen. John Matheussen,
R-Gloucester, and Jersey City officials attended the hearing.
"I will disclose my bias from the outset," Rep.
Rob Andrews, D-N.J., whose South Jersey district includes Camden,
testified before a House national security subcommittee. "The
city of Camden is the right place" for the ship.
Andrews cited several reasons, including easier and less-costly
maintenance because Camden is the only freshwater port among
the three. He also pointed out historic ties because the ship
was built at the nearby Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
In addition, the Camden area has offered a financial package
of $4.2 million from the county freeholders and the Federal Empowerment
Zone Board. Neither of the other two cities has committed a comparable
sum of money.
The issue is shaping up as a geographic battle, pitting South
Jersey supporters of Camden against North Jersey backers of Bayonne
or Jersey City.
Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., a National Security Committee member
whose South Jersey district borders Andrews' district, in a statement
Thursday called Camden "a very suitable location" for
the ship. He expressed concern over lack of consideration for
a Camden site because only one battleship commission member was
from South Jersey. "I have been assured the Navy process
will be objective for all applicants," he said.
The South Jersey congressmen said they believe that the towing
of the ship from Bremerton, Wash., can be expedited so that the
ship can traverse the Panama Canal before the United States relinquishes
control of the canal to Panama on Jan. 1, 2000.
Another witness at Thursday's hearing, state Assemblyman Joseph
Azzolina, said in written testimony that Bayonne was the preferable
site. He cited its modern dock, nearby parking for up to 700
vehicles and proximity to the New York metropolitan area.
"We are before this congressional subcommittee today
to make sure that the Battleship New Jersey goes to the most
suitable site on the New Jersey waterfront," Azzolina said.
"This mighty warrior deserves nothing less than our very
best cooperative efforts.
"We may never be able to get the ship if it's not moved
by 1999," said Azzolina. "Anywhere it goes (in New
Jersey), if it doesn't work we can move it somewhere else."
The New Jersey Battleship Commission, an advisory group chaired
by Azzolina, voted Sept. 10 to recommend the ship go to Bayonne.
But a coalition of South Jersey battleship supporters is fighting
that recommendation, and have vowed to take their case directly
to the Navy.
Andrews, Saxton, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., who is from
Vineland, expressed dismay at the commission's recommendation.
At Thursday's hearing, Rep. Mike Pappas, R-N.J., a committee
member who was one of the key players in pushing legislation
through Congress to send the battleship to New Jersey, tried
to act as peacemaker.
Pappas, who is from Central Jersey, said he was concerned
that any "differences of opinion" over where the ship
goes in New Jersey could hurt the ongoing effort to bring the
ship to the state.
In an interview Wednesday, Andrews said it is up to the secretary
of the Navy to decide where the ship will go, with a role for
"The ship is federal property, and it is federal law
that dictates how the property may be disposed of," Andrews
Andrews said he would expect a final decision on where the
ship will go by the fourth quarter of 1999, with the actual deeding
of the ship in 2000.
In written testimony submitted for Thursday's hearing, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Michael C. Hammes detailed the
procedures for the Navy's Ship Donation Program, including six
months for sites to apply to berth the ship, an additional six
months for the Navy to work with applicants on their proposals,
and a three-month period to analyze the applications.
The Navy expects that all three sites will submit applications.
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