VA starts process to add 30 acres to Fargo National Cemetery
A local veterans group is worried about its ability to buy land for their planned gathering center.
FARGO — An expansion of the Fargo National Cemetery will be taking a step forward, although a local veterans group has a few concerns.
In a Memorial Day address, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration has announced they have identified 30 acres adjacent to the current five-acre site for expansion.
An environmental review to examine the suitability of the land for the expansion has been initiated and the current landowner, Jake Gust, has acknowledged his willingness to sell the property northwest of Fargo.
The review before the land sale is complete could take 18 months to two years, according to Hoeven's state director, Jessica Lee.
Gust sold the initial parcel of land for the cemetery that has seen almost 600 burials since it opened in 2019.
However, a veterans group that has been working on purchasing land adjacent to the cemetery for a gathering spot for veterans and families has raised a red flag on the expansion plan.
Fargo Memorial Honor Guard Commander Jason Hicks said the NCA is looking to buy land that includes the three to four acres their nonprofit would like to buy for a building that could possibly house a chapel, a gathering room, indoor restrooms, military showcase, an office, storage for the honor guard's weapons and a Native American ceremonial space.
They also want to build a parking lot as visitors have to park on the nearby county highway during some ceremonies.
"It's the same land we were looking to buy," Hicks said about the VA plans, although their purchase would be for a much smaller parcel.
He said although the sale is not finalized, he wonders how it would work if they would buy that parcel.
Hicks said it's "frustrating" as they run into hurdles in their efforts.
"We are doing this for veterans and their families. It's that simple," he said, and he doesn't want to wait years for any building to be constructed.
He said his group can be out there for their ceremonies for veterans as often as five days a week.
Hoeven, as reported earlier in The Forum, is supportive of local veterans groups plans to build facilities at the cemetery. He said the NCA that is overseeing the fairly new nationwide initiative to build more rural area cemeteries for veterans and their spouses has given him a commitment to consider a plan by the Honor Guard group to construct a gathering building.
Hoeven said funding legislation this year required the NCA to review infrastructure at the new rural cemeteries and to partner with state, local or private organizations to address needs.
The Honor Guard has been working for more than a year on fundraising to help finance the parking lot and building to protect families from the harsh colder weather conditions.
The group is putting together a business plan for the project, but already has more than $300,000 raised or pledged, and is working on establishing a foundation as a basis for the infrastructure.
A few steps are being taken this summer to help in the meantime, including a wind wall, storage space and a smaller restroom or vault toilet project.
Hicks was critical of the current restroom, calling it "an outhouse with no heat."
Hoeven, though, in looking at the broader picture said the several steps being taken would help to "ensure our state's veterans can continue to be laid to rest here with honor, closer to their homes and loved ones."