Water is only remaining hurdle for area veterans' cemetery

September 1, 2011

El Paso County is one step closer to getting its own veterans’ cemetery. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn and Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro announced that an issue over mineral rights has been cleared up, and only questions of water rights are holding up a final deal on the land.

“As with any land we purchase, we always hit hurdles that we have to get through. Hopefully we can get past this one,” Muro told a small group outside the Fountain City Hall, where he and Lamborn, along with El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey and Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells met to discuss the proposed cemetery.

Muro said the cemetery won’t need much water — on a daily basis, the cemetery will use the equivalent of a four-bedroom house, he said. But questions remain over how it will be pumped out, how it will be purified, where it will come from, and more. If those aren’t settled soon,

Muro said the VA may wind up choosing another site in El Paso for the cemetery.

He and the others sounded, however, like the deal has been done.

“We maintain 131 national cemeteries today. This could be the 132nd,” said Muro. “Today, (negotiations) really moved forward a lot.”

Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, commented, “This is an area for a final resting place for veterans, and they deserve the best.”

Currently, the only military cemetery in Colorado is the Fort Logan National Cemetery, in Denver.

The proposed cemetery for El Paso County would cover 400 acres, just two miles straight east from Fountain. The land was deeded to El Paso County by rancher Andy Kane, who passed away several years ago, said Hisey. Once water negotiations are finalized between the county, the state and the federal government, the land will be handed over to the VA.

The cemetery is slated to open in 2014, and Muro said he wants construction to begin as soon as possible.

Construction would take between 18 and 24 months.

Muro said the cemetery will be staffed by 15 full-time employees, likely all of them veterans.

He said that nationwide, 70 percent of their employees are veterans, and 20 percent of those are disabled. The cemetery itself will last roughly 100 years, he said.

The news that a deal is getting closer is “tremendous,” said Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force major general.

“For local veterans, they want to be buried where they were born, where they were raised, and where they were trained.”

Hisey said he expects many graves at Fort Logan will be moved to El Paso once the new cemetery is completed. On Memorial Day this year, Hisey chartered a bus to take several elderly people who can’t drive any more up to Fort Logan to visit the graves of loved ones.

One woman, he said, hadn’t seen the grave of her husband in three years.

Fountain City Councilman Harold Thompson, an Army veteran, summed it up easily.

“This has been a long time in coming, especially with the amount of military around here.”

Contact the writer 476-4825.

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