By Maddie Orton
As Memorial Day approaches, tensions rise around the future of a war memorial, a museum, and a World War II submarine.
The USS Ling has been moored here in Hackensack since 1972. The adjacent land is owned by MacroMedia, Inc. — the parent company for North Jersey Media Group and The Record.
In the 1970s, The family-owned company leased the land to the Submarine Memorial Association for a dollar a year. Since the last lease expired in the ’90s, the organization, the museum and artifacts have stayed on the land through a month-to-month lease.
But in a change all parties say they knew was coming down the pike, the land is being sold to a developer who plans to build residential properties, retail spaces and a hotel.
“We are in a convolution of being evicted from the property without necessarily a defined place to go,” said Submarine Memorial Association President Gil de Laat.
The Submarine Memorial Association was given 30 days to vacate the premises with an out date of May 31. That’s standard for a month-to-month lease. But there’s a snag.
De Laat and Les Altschuler say the USS Ling and many of the museum’s artifacts are on loan from the Navy, meaning they can’t be moved without permission.
The Navy is set to visit the site on June 6 to take inventory. The Submarine Memorial Association says it’s highly unlikely they’ll get permission to move items before that May 31 deadline.
“The very real possibility exists that if we cannot present this situation well to the Navy, they may come in and just say, ‘We’re going to eliminate this entire museum and memorial,’” de Laat said.
MacroMedia, Inc. owner Stephen Borg was unable to speak in person, but offered statements through his lawyer. In response to inquiry of what will happen if permissions from the Navy are not granted before May 31, he writes: “We are already in discussions with the Navy, the city and the association about their timely removal. We are hopeful that the items will be preserved properly for public benefit.”
In another statement, Borg’s lawyer writes the USS Ling has not been open to the public in nearly four years.
Altschuler says otherwise, explaining the submarine and museum were closed for months after Sandy, but “We’ve been open for tours up until last July. That’s when part of the pier collapsed into the river because the pilings were weakened during Sandy.”
The men say rebuilding the pier wasn’t possible because of the numerous agencies involved and the impending redevelopment.
Having lasting access to the sub is an issue in and of itself.
Altschuler says the USS Ling needs about 17 feet of water to be movable. Without the river being dredged to clear silt, it only has about five to six feet.
“The boat has to be maintained. We have to have power, we don’t know how we’re going to get electric. There are alarms on the boat, there are pumps on the boat to make sure you don’t get to much water in the bilges. [Those are] questions that we have, and that has not been answered,” Altschuler said.
City Manager David Troast says Hackensack wants to support the Association in any way it can, but cannot make specific commitments at this time.
“The city does not own the property. The new developers are going through a development process. What the final result will be, will obviously be in the approvals. Whether there is access granted or not, I can’t answer that because I’m not the approving authority in that regard,” he said.
The city has offered to store artifacts for two years and Borg has offered to help fund the move, though it’s unclear what that will mean. What is certain is that the memorial to submarines lost in war will be visited by vets this Sunday for the organization’s annual Memorial Day service. Whether this year will be the last here on the Hackensack River, that’s anyone’s guess.