Plans for a new veterans cemetery in Genesee County were announced in 2010. The first phase is expected to open in 2022, a pace that sounds average for government-funded projects. It’s disappointing that key features will be left out when the cemetery opens in Pembroke, but with government projects it is always better to get started. Once a project is underway, the money can usually be found to complete it.
Cost estimates that ran more than the federal government budgeted forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to split the project into two phases. A Buffalo News report detailed some features that were in the cemetery’s original plan that have been scaled back or eliminated. The Western New York National Cemetery will at first have interment space for 4,000 veterans, down from 8,672.
An above-ground columbarium, for storage of cremated remains, is no longer in the plans. The cemetery will bury funeral urns in the ground.
Other features put off until the second phase include an honor guard building for military ceremonies, an ossuary for remains and a memorial wall saluting local veterans interred elsewhere.
A worry for veterans advocates is that Congress has to approve an additional $10 million for phase two of the cemetery to be funded. And the cost of building the second phase could rise by 2022.
“By the time they’re ready to do phase two, the additional $10 million that they’ve requested is not going to be enough,” Patrick W. Welch, a retired Marine who has been pushing for the cemetery, told The News. “They’re going to wind up cutting back these other things, and we’re not going to wind up with the cemetery that we were promised in the initial stages of it.”
Welch’s worries are understandable, but there will never be a phase two until there is a phase one. That needs to be the focus, for now.
The News’ recent story said that President Trump included the $10 million in his budget request for the fiscal year that starts in October, and the House Appropriations Committee included the money in its fiscal 2020 spending bill for military projects and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The budget has to pass – always a question mark as politicians play games of chicken and threaten to shut down the government over the spending bills — but for now the $10 million appears on track.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has been a staunch advocate for the building of the cemetery. Schumer told The News he is confident both phases will get done.
“My top priority has been – and will remain — making this cemetery a reality for the 167,000 Western New York veterans who deserve a fitting final resting place reflective of their heroic service,” Schumer said. “That’s why I’m pushing to secure the additional $10 million to complete construction. I won’t stop holding the VA accountable so that this cemetery is constructed without needless delays.”
The closest veterans cemetery now is located in Bath, about 100 miles from Buffalo. The Pembroke parcel, 30 miles from Buffalo, is expected to serve more than 96,000 veterans and family members from the Buffalo and Rochester areas.
Helping veterans is cause with bipartisan support. After the smoke clears from congressional budget battles, the Pembroke cemetery will become a reality.