FARGO — An expansion of the Fargo National Cemetery will be a step forward, though a local veterans group has some concerns.
In a Memorial Day speech, U.S. Senator John Hoeven, RN.D., said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration announced it had identified 30 acres adjacent to the current five-acre site for enlargement.
An environmental review to examine the suitability of the land for expansion has been initiated and current owner Jake Gust has acknowledged his willingness to sell the property northwest of Fargo.
The review before the land sale is completed could take 18 months to two years, according to Hoeven State Director Jessica Lee.
Gust has sold the original plot of land for the cemetery which has seen nearly 600 burials since it opened in 2019.
However, a group of veterans working to purchase land adjacent to the cemetery for a gathering place for veterans and families raised a red flag over the expansion plan.
Fargo Memorial Honor Guard Commander Jason Hicks said the NCA is looking to purchase land that includes the three to four acres his nonprofit would like to purchase for a building that could possibly house a chapel, a meeting room, indoor restrooms, a military display case, an office, storage for Honor Guard weapons, and a Native American ceremonial space.
They also want to build a parking lot because visitors have to park on the nearby county road during certain ceremonies.
“It’s the same land we were looking to buy,” Hicks said of the VA plans, although their purchase would be for a much smaller parcel.
He said that although the sale is not finalized, he wonders how it would work if they bought this plot.
Hicks said it was “frustrating” as they ran into obstacles in their efforts.
“We’re doing this for veterans and their families. It’s as simple as that,” he said, and he doesn’t want to wait years for a building to be built.
He said his group can be there for their ceremonies for veterans as often as five days a week.
Hoeven, as previously reported in The Forum, supports plans by local veterans groups to build facilities at the cemetery. He said the NCA, which is overseeing the relatively new nationwide initiative to build more cemeteries in rural areas for veterans and their spouses, has pledged to review a plan by the Guard Group. of honor to construct a muster building.
Hoeven said this year’s funding legislation required the NCA to review infrastructure for new rural cemeteries and partner with state, local or private organizations to meet needs.
The Honor Guard has been working for more than a year raising funds to help fund the parking lot and building to protect families from harsh and colder weather conditions.
The group is developing a business plan for the project, but has already raised or pledged over $300,000 and is working to establish a foundation as the base for the infrastructure.
A few steps are being taken this summer to help in the meantime, including a wind wall, storage space and a planned smaller toilet or vaulted toilet.
Hicks criticized the current toilets, calling them an “unheated outhouse”.
Hoeven, however, looking at the bigger picture, said the various steps taken would help “ensure that our state’s veterans can continue to rest here with honor, closer to home and loved ones.”