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Thursday, October 22, 1998

Camco appeals Bayonne ship site

Courier-Post staff

The Camden County Board of Freeholders has appealed the New Jersey Battleship Commission's recommendation that Bayonne become the museum site for the historic USS New Jersey.

In a petition to the Superior Court Appellate Division in Trenton, county officials said the commission violated the law that created it by voting Sept. 10 to designate Bayonne as the site in an application to the U.S. Department of the Navy.

The appeal asks the court to bar the pending application and criticizes the commission recommendation as "arbitrary and capricious" and lacking "substantial evidence to support its findings."

Camden County freeholders favor a Camden City site on the Delaware River near where the ship was built, but both Camden and Jersey City lost the controversial commission vote last month.

Robert Millenky, counsel to the freeholders, said the law requires approval from the Legislature and Gov. Christie Whitman before the commission can formally vote to submit an application to the Navy for a site.

"They do not have the power to select," Millenky said Wednesday. "They forgot about getting specific authorization from the Legislature and the governor designating the berthing location through legislation. Instead, they focused improperly on one provision that says they are authorized to submit an application to the Navy."

The papers name the commission, its chairman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, the parent agency of the commission.

Gordon Bishop, a commission spokesman, said it is more important to get the ship to a place in New Jersey than fight over the specific site at this time. He declined comment on the petition.

Azzolina and DEP Commissioner Robert C. Shinn Jr. were unavailable for comment, but DEP spokeswoman Amy Collings said the appeal will be forwarded to the state attorney general's office, which usually represents the state in legal matters.

Millenky said the commission's 1995 application to the Navy touting Liberty State Park in Jersey City as the site for the battleship also violated state statute. No Navy action was taken on that request because the ship - which has fought in all major wars since World War II and is the most decorated in naval history - was not available for donation at that time.

Camden County Freeholder Patricia E. Jones said the county wanted to challenge the Bayonne recommendation not just because it was procedurally improper.

"The commission process in choosing Bayonne also was outlandish for other reasons," she said. "There were no professional reports or criteria. Instead, a lot of misinformation was given. They dismissed our proposal before they started."

Jones is one of the founders of the Home Port Alliance, a nonprofit group of South Jersey officials, labor unions, veterans groups and businesses that plans to submit a separate application to the Navy for a museum site for the ship on the Delaware River in Camden.

At a hearing in Washington this month on the donation process, Navy officials said they will accept applications from any nonprofit group and that the acceptance and review process will take more than a year.

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