Redwood County was supposed to get good news this October.
The funding to begin the work on the veterans cemetery was supposed to be announced by the National Cemetery Administration.
Well, it wasn’t, and so the county will wait another year to find out whether or not the project will receive funding.
Dave Swantek, senior administrator of memorial affairs for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs remains confident the funding will be there. Funding for veterans cemetery projects comes from the federal government through an appropriation from Congress.
According to Swantek, there was not enough funding to make the project happen this year.
In a recent letter addressed to Vicki Knobloch, Redwood County administrator, Swantek wrote, “while I know this news will be disappointing for Redwood County officials, the State of Minnesota, our agency the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and our leadership are committed to this project and are hopeful the project will receive federal construction funding next fall.”
Dustin Hunter, Redwood County veterans service officer, said, from his understanding, there are two tiers of projects that receive the federal funding. The first projects to be funded using dollars allocated by Congress are for what are known as expansion projects, with those new sites coming in after that.
In terms of new site construction, the Redwood County project is near the top of the list.
“We are number four of 12 projects,” said Hunter adding that puts the local project in the top 25 percent.
Hunter said Redwood County was selected as a site for a veterans cemetery because of its location in an underserved part of the state. Within a 75-mile radius of Redwood Falls there are more that 22,000 veterans who could utilize the cemetery when it is constructed.
For Swantek, this project is a matter of when, not if, adding now that the construction of the new cemetery in the Duluth area is completed the state can focus its attention on getting the Redwood County project to the next stage.
Redwood County has committed $1 million for the project and has secured an agreement with two landowners for a spot east of Redwood Falls. At its most recent meeting, the county approved an extension of its agreement to purchase that land.
The county has also been working to improve the adjacent roadway that will take the public to the cemetery and has secured state funding to help make that road project happen.
There are currently three veterans cemeteries in Minnesota, including one in Little Falls, which was opened in 1994, one in Preston, which celebrated being open three years on Veterans Day and Duluth, which was scheduled to have its first burial over the weekend.
Swantek said the project in Redwood Falls has been in the works for a number of years. Serious discussions began in 2007, and the first inkling that it was going to be possible was made in 2009. Since then different issues have arisen which continued to push the proposed project into the future.
“All 50 states are competing for those federal funds,” said Swantek, adding the funding announcement is made each year the first day of October.
So, the county will have to wait until Oct. 1, 2109 to find out whether or not the funding for this project will be allocated to this project for fiscal year 2020.
Swantek said there were 21 expansion projects that were on the priority list this year. He said every 10 years a veterans cemetery is evaluated, and those which are evaluated and have a defined need to expand or to be maintained to remain viable rise to the top of the priority list.
The majority of those expansion projects were cleared from the list with the fiscal year 2019 funding, which leads Swantek to believe the new construction projects will rise to the top next year.
Swantek said it simply becomes a waiting game, but he said when the announcement is made the state is ready to move forward with the process of planning, designing and preparing the cemetery site. The design phase, he said, takes about nine months, adding if the funding is allocated a request for bids to do the project would go out in Spring 2020 with the plan to start construction that fall.
“It takes about two years to complete,” said Swantek.
In the meantime, veterans and the public as a whole, are encouraged to contact their state legislators and members of Congress to talk about this project to ensure it stays on their minds.
Swantek maintains confidence that the Redwood County project will be done sooner rather than later. Even though he knows the county has waited a long time for this project to happen, once it is complete everyone will believe it was worth the wait.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs