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Redwood County veterans cemetery project still on hold

By Troy Krause, Redwood Falls Gazette

Posted Nov 14, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Redwood County was supposed to get good news this October.

The funding to begin the work on the veterans cemetery was supposed to be announced by the National Cemetery Administration.

Well, it wasn’t, and so the county will wait another year to find out whether or not the project will receive funding.

Dave Swantek, senior administrator of memorial affairs for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs remains confident the funding will be there. Funding for veterans cemetery projects comes from the federal government through an appropriation from Congress.

According to Swantek, there was not enough funding to make the project happen this year.

In a recent letter addressed to Vicki Knobloch, Redwood County administrator, Swantek wrote, “while I know this news will be disappointing for Redwood County officials, the State of Minnesota, our agency the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and our leadership are committed to this project and are hopeful the project will receive federal construction funding next fall.”

Dustin Hunter, Redwood County veterans service officer, said, from his understanding, there are two tiers of projects that receive the federal funding. The first projects to be funded using dollars allocated by Congress are for what are known as expansion projects, with those new sites coming in after that.

In terms of new site construction, the Redwood County project is near the top of the list.

“We are number four of 12 projects,” said Hunter adding that puts the local project in the top 25 percent.

Hunter said Redwood County was selected as a site for a veterans cemetery because of its location in an underserved part of the state. Within a 75-mile radius of Redwood Falls there are more that 22,000 veterans who could utilize the cemetery when it is constructed.

For Swantek, this project is a matter of when, not if, adding now that the construction of the new cemetery in the Duluth area is completed the state can focus its attention on getting the Redwood County project to the next stage.

Redwood County has committed $1 million for the project and has secured an agreement with two landowners for a spot east of Redwood Falls. At its most recent meeting, the county approved an extension of its agreement to purchase that land.

The county has also been working to improve the adjacent roadway that will take the public to the cemetery and has secured state funding to help make that road project happen.

There are currently three veterans cemeteries in Minnesota, including one in Little Falls, which was opened in 1994, one in Preston, which celebrated being open three years on Veterans Day and Duluth, which was scheduled to have its first burial over the weekend.

Swantek said the project in Redwood Falls has been in the works for a number of years. Serious discussions began in 2007, and the first inkling that it was going to be possible was made in 2009. Since then different issues have arisen which continued to push the proposed project into the future.

“All 50 states are competing for those federal funds,” said Swantek, adding the funding announcement is made each year the first day of October.

So, the county will have to wait until Oct. 1, 2109 to find out whether or not the funding for this project will be allocated to this project for fiscal year 2020.

Swantek said there were 21 expansion projects that were on the priority list this year. He said every 10 years a veterans cemetery is evaluated, and those which are evaluated and have a defined need to expand or to be maintained to remain viable rise to the top of the priority list.

The majority of those expansion projects were cleared from the list with the fiscal year 2019 funding, which leads Swantek to believe the new construction projects will rise to the top next year.

Swantek said it simply becomes a waiting game, but he said when the announcement is made the state is ready to move forward with the process of planning, designing and preparing the cemetery site. The design phase, he said, takes about nine months, adding if the funding is allocated a request for bids to do the project would go out in Spring 2020 with the plan to start construction that fall.

“It takes about two years to complete,” said Swantek.

In the meantime, veterans and the public as a whole, are encouraged to contact their state legislators and members of Congress to talk about this project to ensure it stays on their minds.

Swantek maintains confidence that the Redwood County project will be done sooner rather than later. Even though he knows the county has waited a long time for this project to happen, once it is complete everyone will believe it was worth the wait.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs


Veterans cemetery plan in limbo

Redwood Falls Gazette

Posted Oct 13, 2015 at 12:01 AM

By Troy Krause Redwood Falls Gazette

A site east of Redwood Falls and just south of TH19/US71 has been acquired by Redwood County for the purpose of constructing a veterans' cemetery, but since that purchase, the process of moving that project forward has been stagnant.

A site east of Redwood Falls and just south of TH19/US71 has been acquired by Redwood County for the purpose of constructing a veterans’ cemetery. Since that purchase, the process of moving that project forward has been stagnant.

Residents of the region wonder aloud what is happening with the project, as have Redwood County commissioners, and with that in mind, Dave Swantek, Minnesota-sota Veterans Cemetery administration director, came to talk with the county board during its meeting this past Tues-day morning.

“We’ve been talking about this project for a long time,” said Swantek, who is also coordinating or has coordinated other similar projects in Minnesota.

Swantek said those involved in the proposed project in Redwood County believe the site that has been selected is viable, but there are a number of steps that must take place before a final commitment is going to be made.

Prior to any official work being done and federal funds being expended, Swantek said there are some commitments that need to be met.

The first is that the gravel roadway to the east of the proposed site will need to be paved. The requested paving of the Paxton Township road (Noble Avenue) would serve as the road onto which cemeteries would access the site, as safety issues would preclude an access from the main highway.

Swantek added the paving of 2,000 feet of that township roadway would also address dust control issues that would arise if the roadway remained gravel.

“What we don’t want is for families visiting their loved ones to have to deal with dust at the cemetery,” said Swantek.

Willy Rabenberg, Redwood County highway department engineer, said he would be hesitant to just pave a portion of that road, adding if it were to be paved he would suggest paving the entire mile. That, he said would mean significant cost.

Rabenberg added because that is not a state-aid roadway, any costs for the project would have to come from local tax levy funds.

Should that road be paved, commissioners discussed who would be responsible for maintenance and if that road would then be turned over to the county.

Swantek said the requirements would also include the acquisition of additional land, including a 4.2 acre piece south of the current location to ensure land immediately adjacent to the site would not be developed in a way that would disturb the intended peaceful environment at a cemetery.

The status of that land was raised, as some believed it is currently in CREP, which would address the issue. It would then be in a permanent easement and could not be developed.

Commissioner Lon Walling, who has been involved in the project from its inception, raised concerns about the increased requirements.

“When this started, we were asked to find a piece of land for the cemetery. Then we were told that the land had to be donated. Through the process, the county approved an allocation of up to $1 million for this project, and I was of the opinion that we would find a way to spend a lot less than that. Then we found out that the road has to be paved at our expense and you need an additional 4.2 acres,” Walling said. “I am hoping this is the last thing you are going to ask for. I am not in favor of halting this project, but because these are local levy dollars we as a board have to be very careful how they are spent.”

Swantek appreciated the position of the board, but he reminded them that if this project would move forward it would mean an initial expenditure of up to $8 million for cemetery construction, with additional dollars spent as the site is expanded. The state, he said, then maintains that site into perpetuity, and would have on hand up to seven full time employees. Swantek surmised an annual cost of $500,000 from the state to operate the site, with much of that funding staying right in the area.

The cemetery would serve veterans and their families in a 75-mile radius, he added.

Once the board has committed to the requests, Swantek said the work will proceed.

That would start with ensuring the site is appropriate for a cemetery, which would be done with soil borings.

“Even if it looks good on top, we need to know what it looks like 10-15 feet below,” Swantek said.

Swantek added the site is a top priority for federal funding.

“This site is high on the list nationally,” said Swantek. “Among all of the projects you have been in the top five for several years.”

Should the project proceed, Swantek said there is a series of steps that would begin, with planning for the site beginning as early as next year. If that all falls into place, Swantek said construction could begin as early as 2018.