Legislation would guide cemetery site, funding
ST. PAUL — Plans to build a new state veterans cemetery in Fillmore County got a major boost Monday at the state Capitol.
A key House committee approved a bill that would require the state’s commissioner of veterans affairs to give priority to Fillmore County’s cemetery proposal. The measure would also make sure that $500,000 in state funding approved in 2009 could be used towards a cemetery project in southeastern Minnesota. The bill now heads to the House Capital Investment Committee.
Filllmore County has offered to donate 153 acres of county farmland overlooking the Root River near Preston for the cemetery. It's the only county to offer a proposal for a site.
"There is a tremendous amount of support in Fillmore County," said bill sponsor Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston. "They realize what a good thing this could be for southeast Minnesota, and they have jumped on board enthusiastically."
A similar measure is being sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.
Not everyone supports giving Fillmore County a priority over other counties in southeastern Minnesota. Last session, former Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, and former Sen. Ann Lynch, R-Rochester, backed a measure that the entire region be considered for a new veterans cemetery, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he would rather leave it up to the state to determine the best site.
"My view is we shouldn’t do it legislatively. We should work with the Department of Veterans Administration and decide what the best site is. And it may be Fillmore County," Senjem said.
The push for a state veterans cemetery in southeastern Minnesota comes after a 2009 report determined six counties in southeast Minnesota were under-served. Those six counties — Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, Fillmore, Winona and Houston — were projected to have a veteran population of more than 14,000 by September 2010. The report discussed a cemetery near Stewartville because it would be within 50 miles of the major veteran population centers in nine counties and could serve nearly 29,000 veterans.
Little Falls has the only state veterans cemetery in Minnesota. There's a national cemetery at Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities. The report also recommended state veterans cemeteries be built in southwestern Minnesota and northeastern Minnesota.
David Swantek, director at the state cemetery in Little Falls, said the state has invested $10,000 in site studies.
"At this time the studies have shown no significant red flags to the property. It’s a property that has a strong potential for a cemetery," he said.
The state has applied for a National Cemetery Association grant that pays 100 percent of the construction costs and reimburses states for design costs. The state has to prove it has the design money needed to start a project. Davids' bill would make sure the southeastern Minnesota cemetery would be eligible for that money. The city of Spring Valley has offered to donate 100 acres to the project as a backup.