One of the last and possibly most important ways to show veterans who honorably served this country respect is to give them a fitting final resting place.
For far too long, such a place did not exist within range of Western New York. The omission was glaring for families who had to drive far out of their way to Bath, about 100 miles southeast of Buffalo. The other choice was private cemeteries – pleasant, perhaps, but lacking the national honor due to those who have served.
But a number of parties, private, public and political worked together to finally find our military a final and fitting resting place. The Western New York National Cemetery is the region’s first of a kind in its distinction for veterans, in the Town of Pembroke, Genesee County.
It took a long time. It’s been nine years since the initial proposal. Delays began with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency spent four years choosing a site for the cemetery, and it was another four years before three parcels of land could be put together to create the desired setting. The reason had to do with a gas line that ran through the middle of two of the parcels. It had to be moved. Enter the bureaucracy.
The Veterans Affairs spent a couple of years figuring out three possible sites, one in Lancaster and two Pembroke. It took another couple of years for the agency to decide on the final location, at the intersection of Indian Falls Road and state Route 77 in Pembroke
With the largest piece of land in its portfolio, a 132-acre parcel acquired in 2014, the VA still could not start construction on the new cemetery until it secured two other parcels of 60 acres and 77 acres. They were needed for the cemetery’s main entrance which would be built along Indian Falls Road, instead of the busier Route 77 corridor.
Both property owners were on board except the interested parties had to contend with the gas line, which required various government agency approvals. Even bureaucrats were frustrated by this bureaucratic logjam.
Then, government approvals were needed, as was an environmental impact statement. The gas line had to be moved to the perimeter of the property and the VA had to buy the property for an undisclosed sum. During the long delay in Western New York, about a half dozen new veterans cemeteries in underserved areas were built across the country. Veterans and their loved ones wanted to know when a shovel would hit the ground.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has urged the VA to maintain a “swift construction timetable,” to begin construction this year. Schumer has been on the case since 2009. He will keep pushing. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, whose district includes the cemetery site, said he, too, would push for quick completion.
The official opening date remains unknown but with the backing of Schumer and Collins, along with $36 million Congress already appropriated for construction, hopes run high that the work will get started, soon. Maybe as soon as this year, as Schumer predicted.
It has taken too long to get going on a final resting place for this area’s veterans. It’s time to make this happen.