Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Better Way to Memorialize the Sacrifice of Those Who Have Died Trying to Protect Our Freedom than by Using Force to Take Someone's Property?

Some of the family members of victims of United Flight 93 which crashed on Sept. 11, 2001 want President GW Bush to spend his last days in office seizing the land in Pennsylvania on which the flight crashed.

The effort to build a permanent memorial began with legislation signed by Bush in September 2002, leading to plans for a 2,200-acre national park site. The bulk of the memorial is projected to cost about $56 million, including $30 million from the private sector, $10 million from the state of Pennsylvania and the remainder from the federal government, according to federal officials and the Flight 93 group. About 1,400 acres would need to be bought by the government to make it work, according to federal officials.

But much like faltering efforts to build a monument at Ground Zero in New York, the Pennsylvania project has been dogged by delays and, most important, a simmering dispute over a 273-acre tract that includes most of the crash site. The quarry company that owns the land, Svonavec Inc. of Somerset, has rejected a $250,000 offer from the Park Service for the land, as well as $750,000 from Families of Flight 93, according to documents and interviews.

$750K sounds like a lot of money to me- but then, it's not my property, and I have no idea what it's worth. The government must think it's worth something, if they're planning on spending at least $16M on it (by the way, do you really think the final price tag will be $56M?).

The Flight 93 group thinks there is no use pursuing further negotiations with the Svonavec firm and accuses the company's secretary-treasurer, Mike Svonavec, of seeking as much as $10 million for the land. Many of the families are also angry with Svonavec for forcing the Park Service to move the temporary memorial off his land, citing security reasons.

"All that we have worked for is endangered," the Families of Flight 93 and a related group wrote in a Dec. 9 letter to Bush. "It would be an insult to the memory of the brave souls on Flight 93, as well as to the nation that demanded that their sacrifice be remembered, that inertia prevented us from completing our task."

'I've jumped through hoops'
Svonavec accuses federal officials of failing to follow guidelines for buying property and said that his only interest is in getting a fair third-party appraisal of the land, which had been strip-mined for coal before it reverted to an area of meadows and trees before the Flight 93 crash. Svonavec also denied ever placing a $10 million price tag on the parcel.

"All we've ever asked is that an independent appraisal be done on the property, and then let's sit down and work it out," he said. "I've jumped through hoops. I'd do anything I can to get it done. But when they're hiding appraisals, what can you do?"

One group wants to memorialize the victims of Flight 93, and the other wants a fair price for his own property. It's hard to imagine being in either situation- if I'd lost a family member in the crash I'd be inconsolable. If I owned the property where the crash took place I'd hate to have to deal with the federal government when they're interested in using their power to take the land.

What a terrible, depressing story this is.

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