January 22, 2014 Updated: January 23, 2014 at 10:01 am
Papers have been signed sealing a deal to buy 374 acres of land as a burial place for southern Colorado veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday.
The site near South Powers Boulevard and Bradley Road is planned to serve the region's 95,000 veterans. The area was served earlier by Denver's Fort Logan National Cemetery.
Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall joined Colorado Springs U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in announcing the deal, which comes three months after the VA announced it was in final negotiations for the land.
"This is an exciting day for Colorado Springs and southern Colorado," Lamborn said. "This means the VA is absolutely committed to giving Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado a national cemetery."
Local veterans, through the Pikes Peak Region Veterans Cemetery Committee, have battled for nearly 15 years to create the cemetery.
El Paso County has the highest concentration of veterans in Colorado but was long denied a cemetery by VA regulations, which said the Fort Logan National Cemetery, 75 miles away in Denver, was close enough. Burial at a federal cemetery is one of the benefits veterans gain for honorable service.
Word that the long cemetery fight was over brought elation.
"I have been celebrating since Friday," said retired Army Col. Victor Fernandez who helped lead the local push for the cemetery.
"That's wonderful news, that really is," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Soriano of Colorado Springs.
Known as the Rolling Hills Ranch, the property offers views of Pikes Peak. VA plans call for the first burials at the cemetery in 2015, with full completion of cemetery facilities by 2017.
Jay Bowen, southern district commander for the American Legion, said the cemetery is a shot in the arm for veterans in the Pikes Peak region.
"We see this as a major win and finally an acknowledgement that they do care about us here in southern Colorado," Bowen said.
Fernandez said now that VA holds title to the land, it can solicit bids to construct buildings on the property and landscape it.