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October 18, 2021

Hello everyone; I am inserting a current news item regarding the progression of items that should soon allow the start of construction of the new state veterans' cemetery in Redwood Falls Minnesota. With a grant of $5.9 million dollars the new veterans cemetery in Redwood Falls seems now to be a reality.

Respectfully

John Thomas, President

WreathsForTheFallen.org


July 2022;

Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Redwood Falls

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Redwood Falls will be the fourth State Veterans Cemetery in Minnesota. Other State Veterans Cemeteries are located in Little Falls, Preston and Duluth.

In October 2020, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notified the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) of their plans to award a grant in FY 2021 to establish a State Veterans Cemetery in Redwood County. The tentative grant amount is $7.5 million. MDVA is seeking additional support from the Minnesota Legislature to fully fund the project.

Acceptance of this grant opportunity begins a year-long process in design, planning and hopefully the final award of the grant dollars to MDVA at the start of federal fiscal year 2022, which begins October 1, 2021. MDVA is working with Redwood County officials to confirm the state’s ownership of the property as a first step.

See the press release announcing the grant press release announcing the grant here.

For more information, please call 1-888-LinkVet.

Redwood Falls

 

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemeteries and other state Veterans cemeteries are a compliment to the National Cemetery Administration. The National Cemetery Administration provides support to state cemeteries in the form of grants that can be used for development, expansion, and/or improvement. The National Cemetery Administration does not provide funding for the operation of state Veterans cemeteries.

 

New SW Minnesota cemetery will let veterans rest closer to home

A rendering of the new state veterans cemetery.
A rendering of a new veterans cemetery set to be finished at Redwood Falls in spring or early summer of 2023.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs

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The fourth state veterans cemetery in the state had its groundbreaking ceremony in southern Minnesota on Wednesday. 

Inclement weather didn’t stop state and local representatives, community residents and veterans from huddling underneath white tarp tents as the rain and wind blew across rural prairie land in Redwood Falls. Where the tents stood will eventually be home to an 81-acre resting place for military veterans. 

The project was 12 years in the making for many families and veterans in southwest Minnesota, who would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to the closest cemeteries, at Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities or in Sioux Falls, S.D., to pay their respects to loved ones. 

A group of people gather at an outdoor ceremony.
Gov. Tim Walz meets with veterans at the site of the fourth state veterans cemetery in rural Redwood Falls in southern Minnesota. 
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke said that the state has interred 10,000 veterans at its state cemeteries so far. 

“I believe that the cemetery will be important for this community,” Herke said. It’s [the] last stop for many of our veterans as they go through their life. And it’s important those honors are actually given to each one of our veterans as we walk forward.”

Gov. Tim Walz, a veteran of the Army National Guard, said that the bipartisan support to get the veterans cemetery funding, as well as community leaders and officials working together to obtain the property, were critical to the project’s success. 

“Veterans stick up for one another, veterans stand side by side,” Walz said. “All the differences we see, especially when you enter this special place, all those differences are gone. We lie in that perfect democracy, where we’re sisters and brothers in service to this nation. This community accepted the responsibility, and I would make the case that there are a few communities more ready than this one to accept it.”

Funding for the cemetery was boosted by an $11.2 million grant from the National Cemetery Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and $4.5 million from this year’s Minnesota Legislature.

A veteran stands at a microphone to speak.
Lydia Conito tells attendees at the groundbreaking ceremony that the land is sacred and to remember those who served their country.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

During the groundbreaking ceremony, community members acknowledged the importance of having a sacred space for service members to rest. Among them was Navy veteran Lydia Conito, a member of Lower Sioux Indian Community, who has a family history of serving in the military.

“I’m so happy, it feels like the circle is coming close to an end,” Conito said. “Now our veterans will have a safe place to be and when they meet their Creator, they will all be so healthful, happy and they will meet all their relatives right here on this land.”

There are 10 total planning phases, beginning with a development phase of 21.7 acres of land. It will feature burial sites for caskets, in-ground cremation, and above-ground columbarium cremation. The state also plans to hire seven employees to help maintain the cemetery grounds. 

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose father was a Korean War veteran, said that it was important to continue supporting veterans and military service personnel in life and for after. 

“We show them when they come home, not with tomatoes like what happened after the Vietnam War,” Klobuchar said. “You can have disagreements with war, but you don’t take it out on the warriors. We owe it to them and their families by giving them a beautiful, dignified place to rest. That’s what this place is.”

A dedication ceremony for the Redwood Falls cemetery is anticipated in spring or early summer of 2023.

 

 

 

Graves get go-ahead – Redwood Falls

From the November 2020 issue of The Minnesota Legionnaire …                                                                                               

REDWOOD FALLS — The VA’s National Cemetery Administration let the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs know last month of a $5.9 million grant for building a state veterans cemetery in Redwood Falls.

Congressman Collin Peterson announced the funding Oct. 15, 2019.

“We were happy when we found out,” said Redwood County Council Commander Jim Mertens. “There has been a lot of next year, next year up until now.”

MDVA Administrator of Memorial Affairs David Swantek said there are a number of hoops the agency must jump through for the Redwood Falls Veterans Cemetery to become reality.

“The funding opportunity is there, but we have to make sure we put all the pieces in place,” he said.

American Legion Department Commander Mark Dvorak in October sent a statement to Peterson’s office for a news release.

“The time is now to fund the Redwood Falls Veterans Cemetery,” Dvorak said. “This community has an outstanding track record of supporting veterans and their families. Meanwhile, expansions to other cemeteries, rather than new ones, have been funded. A veteran’s cemetery in this part of Minnesota is necessary, and expanding far-away cemeteries won’t cut it. We are grateful to U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson for his work on this matter.”

Picture above; American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford of North Carolina visits Redwood Falls Post 38 in February 2020.

MDVA Commissioner Larry Herke said: “We appreciate the NCA’s support in expanding the state veteran’s cemeteries in Minnesota. This grant funding is an important first step in making this new cemetery a reality.”

If everything goes as planned, Minnesota will find out next summer whether that cemetery truly gets the $5.9 million, Swantek said. Construction would begin November 2021.

The funding comes from the VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program. Often, expanding cemeteries bumps new cemeteries down the funding list, and states applying for new cemeteries never know how many expansion projects will be on the list.

“The Redwood Falls project has always been subject to being pushed down the list,” Swantek said.

Expansion, he added, doesn’t mean more acres. It means developing more gravesites on existing property.

Swantek has been with the MDVA since 1996 and has led efforts to build new cemeteries in Duluth and Preston.

He said another factor in scoring funding is veteran population within a 75-mile radius. The calculated area for Redwood Falls comes to 22,198 veterans and includes the cities of Mankato, Worthington, Marshall, Willmar, Fairmont, New Ulm, St. Peter, Hutchinson, Glencoe, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Cold Spring and Montevideo. The higher the number of vets served, the more likely a new cemetery can get funded.

Swantek said when Preston was proposed, it served about 50,000 veterans. It opened in 2015. Duluth served 25,000. It opened in 2019. (Little Falls opened in 1994.)

The best solution, he said, would be if Congress kicked more dollars into the cemetery grants.

“There has been no significant increase in funding from Congress, but the number of states operating cemeteries has expanded significantly,” Swantek said.

The MDVA asked Peterson to get Congress to put more funds into the program. Peterson sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In 2000, the grant program rules changed to fund 100 percent of the construction cost. Before, it has been a 50/50 split. That brought increased competition for the grant dollars.

Still, even with the feds paying construction costs, the state pays the largest share — perpetual operation expenses — he said.

Other factors, Swantek said, that can delay or derail a project are 1. costs changing between when estimates are made and when construction occurs, 2. the bidding climate at the time bids are solicited, and 3. availability of construction companies in the first place.

Redwood County stepped up and committed $1 million toward purchasing the property in Paxton Township. It is 70 acres east of the city of Redwood Falls — exactly 2.6 miles from Post 38 — on the southwest corner of Highway 19 and Noble Avenue. It is owned by the son of a veteran.

Noble is a gravel road, and the bonding bill passed in October commits $700,000 to pave it. It is already paved, but the funding reimburses the county.

All that’s left is the turning lane for an entrance, said Post 38 Commander Dustin Hunter, who also is the county veteran’s service officer.

Mertens said Legion members from around the county wore their caps to the Redwood County Board of Commissioners meeting about 11 years ago when the purchasing agreement was on the agenda, just to make sure their presence was known.

“They all voted for it,” he said.

On Nov. 3, the County Board agenda calls for the actual purchase of the property.

Hunter said it’s good to see the project get this far.

“It’s becoming a reality instead of a ‘what if.’ That’s my biggest thing. Just to see some of the veteran’s just cheer up, because this has been going on over a decade,” he said.


 

Redwood County veterans cemetery project still on hold

By Troy Krause, Redwood Falls Gazette

Posted Nov 14, 2018 at 1:27 PM

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

 

Veterans cemetery plan in limbo

Redwood Falls Gazette

Posted Oct 13, 2015 at 12:01 AM

By Troy Krause Redwood Falls Gazette

A site east of Redwood Falls and just south of TH19/US71 has been acquired by Redwood County for the purpose of constructing a veterans' cemetery, but since that purchase, the process of moving that project forward has been stagnant.

A site east of Redwood Falls and just south of TH19/US71 has been acquired by Redwood County for the purpose of constructing a veterans’ cemetery. Since that purchase, the process of moving that project forward has been stagnant.

“We’ve been talking about this project for a long time,” said Swantek, who is also coordinating or has coordinated other similar projects in Minnesota.

Swantek said those involved in the proposed project in Redwood County believe the site that has been selected is viable, but there are a number of steps that must take place before a final commitment is going to be made.

Prior to any official work being done and federal funds being expended, Swantek said there are some commitments that need to be met.

The first is that the gravel roadway to the east of the proposed site will need to be paved. The requested paving of the Paxton Township road (Noble Avenue) would serve as the road onto which cemeteries would access the site, as safety issues would preclude an access from the main highway.

Swantek added the paving of 2,000 feet of that township roadway would also address dust control issues that would arise if the roadway remained gravel.

“What we don’t want is for families visiting their loved ones to have to deal with dust at the cemetery,” said Swantek.

Rabenberg added because that is not a state-aid roadway, any costs for the project would have to come from local tax levy funds.

Should that road be paved, commissioners discussed who would be responsible for maintenance and if that road would then be turned over to the county.

Swantek said the requirements would also include the acquisition of additional land, including a 4.2 acre piece south of the current location to ensure land immediately adjacent to the site would not be developed in a way that would disturb the intended peaceful environment at a cemetery.

The status of that land was raised, as some believed it is currently in CREP, which would address the issue. It would then be in a permanent easement and could not be developed.

Commissioner Lon Walling, who has been involved in the project from its inception, raised concerns about the increased requirements.

“When this started, we were asked to find a piece of land for the cemetery. Then we were told that the land had to be donated. Through the process, the county approved an allocation of up to $1 million for this project, and I was of the opinion that we would find a way to spend a lot less than that. Then we found out that the road has to be paved at our expense and you need an additional 4.2 acres,” Walling said. “I am hoping this is the last thing you are going to ask for. I am not in favor of halting this project, but because these are local levy dollars we as a board have to be very careful how they are spent.”

The cemetery would serve veterans and their families in a 75-mile radius, he added.

Once the board has committed to the requests, Swantek said the work will proceed.

That would start with ensuring the site is appropriate for a cemetery, which would be done with soil borings.

“Even if it looks good on top, we need to know what it looks like 10-15 feet below,” Swantek said.

Swantek added the site is a top priority for federal funding.

“This site is high on the list nationally,” said Swantek. “Among all of the projects you have been in the top five for several years.”

Should the project proceed, Swantek said there is a series of steps that would begin, with planning for the site beginning as early as next year. If that all falls into place, Swantek said construction could begin as early as 2018.