Rodrigo Torrejon, North Jersey Record
19 December 2016
HACKENSACK — The USS Ling has been berthed in the Hackensack River for more than 40 years – and it might be stuck there.
The 312-foot, 2,500-ton World War II-era submarine is the featured exhibit of the New Jersey Naval Museum, which occupies a trailer on land that was once the headquarters of the North Jersey Media Group, which was sold to Gannett in July and publishes The Record. The Ling has been anchored off the riverbank behind the newspaper’s former headquarters for decades.
Now, however, museum officials are grappling with the logistical and financially daunting challenge of moving the submarine, which by all accounts is mired in muck and is moored in a section of the river too shallow for the sub to navigate.
“I don’t know what it would take to get her out of the mud or if that would even be possible,” said Hugh Carola, program director at Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental group.
Earlier this year, the museum’s lease was terminated by Stephen Borg, former publisher of The Record. Borg, whose grandfather negotiated the 1974 deal to lease land to the museum for $1 a year. The city Planning Board voted in May to subdivide the nearly 20-acre site into four lots for redevelopment, which could include a hotel and 700 residences.
On its website, the museum said it would be relocating and that an announcement on the move is pending. The naval museum has been closed since 2012, when Superstorm Sandy washed out the small pier that provided access to the Ling from the riverbank. Since the lease was terminated, the Navy has reclaimed 68 artifacts that it had lent to the museum.
Even though the Ling itself is not covered by the lease, these developments have left the submarine’s fate in limbo. Borg said that, as the Ling was not on his property, he had no legal rights over it and would not have a hand in its relocation. Borg said that a meeting to discuss the reclamation and preservation of other museum artifacts – save for the Ling – is tentatively scheduled for early next month.
When asked whether the Ling would be relocated, dismantled or stay in its berth, Gilbert De Laat, president of
the naval museum, said that all of those options had been discussed and that no decision had been made at this point.
In previous interviews, De Laat has said the sub needs at least 17 feet of channel to navigate the river. A June 2015 survey prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicates that the the channel near the Ling is just 10 feet deep.
Ed Wrocenski, project manager for the Army Corps survey, explained that the submarine could be mired in sediment that has clumped together over time.
“It could be silted in there,” Wrocenski said. “It’s tough to get that thing moving. You have to remove all that.”
The site of both the museum and the Ling is thick with mud and strewn with gnarled vines. The Ling is practically inaccessible. Half of its gangplank washed away in the floods after Superstorm Sandy, and the remaining half is cordoned off. A few lengths of rope connect the submarine to the riverbank.
The Ling itself stands high above the waterline. It's riddled with rust holes. One hole in the exterior hull at the stem is a few feet tall.
Bill Sheehan, executive director of Hackensack Riverkeeper, explained that when the Ling was originally towed to its berth in 1973, the river was still used to transport construction and industrial materials. The barges that would frequently navigate the river formed a consistent prop wash, a current created by boat propellers that stirred up sediment.
“Now that there’s no tugboats coming up this far, the river is becoming less and less passable,” Sheehan said.
Colleen O’Rourke, a spokeswoman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, which is responsible for Navy vessels, said the submarine remains the property of the museum. As the Ling’s owner, the museum would have to bear the cost of surveying the river and relocating the sub, she said.
The first steps for moving the submarine would be to send out divers to measure the current depth of the river and then send a smaller barge to tow the sub.
“Right there, you’re talking a big chunk of money just to find out if it’s deep enough,” Carola said.
Carola estimated that the initial survey alone would probably cost several thousand dollars. De Laat had previously estimated that the total cost of the relocation process would be in the millions.
Neither the Borg family nor the city is claiming any responsibility for the sub.
“The submarine is not on our property,” said Borg’s attorney, Gary Redish. “That’s not something we’re concerned about. We’re concerned about getting the balance of the artifacts off the property.”
City officials say they are not able to do anything to save the Ling, either.
“We have absolutely no rights to the river,” said Mayor John Labrosse. “The city’s responsibility ends at the shoreline.”
Once measurements are taken and water channel passage is determined, the submarine would run into obstacles along its journey to a different resting place, Sheehan and Carola said.
At the beginning of its trip, the sub would start off fenced in. The submarine is corralled by the Court Street Bridge to the south and the railroad trestle to the north.
In August, Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres of Paterson offered to relocate the submarine to the Passaic River, as an exhibit just upstream from the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. But relocating it to Paterson may be more difficult than getting the ship out of Hackensack.
“No, no, no,” Carola said when asked if that were possible. “Did I say ‘No’ enough times?”
If the Ling were to be towed to the upstream location proposed by Torres, it would run into the Great Falls – and that’s if it were able to get past the Dundee Dam spanning Clifton and Garfield.
Another option could be to dismantle the submarine in Hackensack and reassemble it in Paterson. Carola said dismantling the sub seemed to be the only viable option, though the rust damage on the hull would require bracing for any dry docking.
Sheehan had suggested dismantling the Ling after photographing and creating a record of the sub and its history. He did not, however, think rebuilding the sub on land was a viable option.
“This thing has never been in dry dock,” Sheehan said. “Since it was put here in the 1970s, no one has done any maintenance on it.”
Ls Altschuler, vice president of the Submarine Memorial Association, which runs the naval museum, said there were ongoing discussions regarding the Ling, the museum and the association. But he would not provide any details about the museum’s plans to relocate.
Borg said he would be willing to offer financial assistance to the museum for the relocation of the artifacts with the exception of the Ling.
All of this has saddened visitors and other supporters of the Ling, which, in its prime, was the site of Pearl Harbor Day commemorations and other remembrance ceremonies. Al Parisi, a writer and historian for the Army Air Forces Historical Association, was a regular at those events. He visited the sub Dec. 7.
“Standing there … I noticed that, for the longest time, there was a tattered American flag attached at the mast,” Parisi said, noting that the flag was no longer unfurled over the sub. “I’m just wondering if it was the victim of the wind or indifference.”