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Feds to Take County Land By Eminent Domain for Cemetery Expansion

The Dept. of Justice has filed a civil action that would seize nine acres of county land on the eastern end of Columbia Pike by eminent domain, in order to expand Arlington National Cemetery.

The suit appears to be part of the long-standing plan to expand the cemetery around the Air Force Memorial, and includes no indication of resistance from the county. Arlington endorsed the federal proposal in April, which realigns and upgrades a portion of Columbia Pike in exchange for the county-owned land next to the cemetery.

As of Tuesday morning neither the Justice Department nor the county responded to requests for comment by ARLnow.

The action was announced Monday, with the DOJ touting it as a win for both military veterans and local residents.

“When completed, the Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Project will provide for approximately 60,000 additional burial sites, including an above ground columbarium,” said a press release. “The expansion will extend the timeline for Arlington National Cemetery to continue as an active military cemetery.”

“The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery,” the press release continues. “The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes streetscape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways. The project also provides for the construction of a new South Nash Street.”

The full press release is below.

The Department of Justice filed today a civil action on behalf of the Department of the Army for the taking of roadways owned or operated by Arlington County, Virginia, by eminent domain for the purpose of expanding Arlington National Cemetery.

The taking and relocation of these roadways, together with future planned acquisitions from the Commonwealth of Virginia, will establish a single, contiguous parcel of land south of the existing cemetery. The incorporation of this land into the cemetery will create a 49-acre contiguous parcel available for cemetery development.

When completed, the Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Project will provide for approximately 60,000 additional burial sites, including an above ground columbarium. The expansion will extend the timeline for Arlington National Cemetery to continue as an active military cemetery. The total project cost, including the related Defense Access Roads Project, is estimated at $420 million, and Congress already has appropriated $280 million in Project-related funding.

The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery. The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes street-scape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways. The project also provides for the construction of a new South Nash Street.

“Earlier this month, we recognized the 76th anniversary of D-Day and we remembered the heroism, service, and sacrifice of American servicemen and women in the defense of freedom,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “But every day the ultimate sacrifice of America’s men and women is commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most hallowed ground. With today’s civil action, we are proud to assist with this important expansion of Arlington Cemetery, which may now continue to serve as a burial ground for America’s fallen well into the future.”

June 15, 2020 marks the 156th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, which was established as a military cemetery in 1864 during the American Civil War.

“As part of the Expansion Project, the Department of the Army and others worked to realign roads and real estate to ensure a much needed expansion of Arlington National Cemetery so that this space can continue being a hallowed resting ground for our nation’s service members,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As someone whose grandfather will forever reside at ANC with so many of his friends, brothers, and sisters of the greatest generation, it is particularly meaningful to assist in facilitating this expansion and seek court approval for just compensation for Arlington County.”

Congress authorized the Department of the Army to acquire land, including acquisition by condemnation, if necessary, for the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. Congress gets its authority from the U.S. Constitution that allows the taking of public county property for a public use. In turn, the government must pay just compensation for the property. Acquisition by condemnation is an open and transparent process that assures fair treatment for landowners and taxpayers alike. The government here is providing just compensation in the form of substitute facilities, including a realigned and redesigned Columbia Pike and the construction of a new South Nash Street.

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