Update: Seizure Threat Accelerates Land Acquisition for Flight 93 Memorial

Flags adorn temporary memorial at the Flight 93 crash site. Photo by Jeff Kubina via Flickr.

The Flight 93 National Memorial now under development in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, won’t be ready for dedication on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks if land acquisition efforts remain stalled. Deeply concerned about the delays, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has put the negotiators on notice that he’ll order seizure of the land if willing seller agreements are not reached by June 12.

This ultimatum amounts to a “stay of execution,” or if you prefer, a “temporary reversal of an earlier decision.” The Secretary had announced last month that a decision to seize the land had already been made. Now a window of opportunity for a willing seller transfer of ownership has been re-opened, but it will last only until the end of this week.

Secretary Salazar’s threat to use the federal government’s eminent domain authority to acquire key parcels of land for the planned 2,200-acre Memorial is certainly understandable in light of the pressure cooker atmosphere pervading this project. The National Park Service knows it will face a firestorm of criticism and lose valuable political capital if the agency cannot have the Memorial ready (Phase I completed) for its September 11, 2011 dedication. There is barely enough time to meet this hard deadline, so land acquisition has to be completed quickly. The clock is tick, tick, ticking…..

The big holdup right now is the acquisition of seven parcels of privately-owned land totaling about 500 acres. These key parcels, the largest of which is 275 acres, adjoin land already acquired for the Memorial.

In a letter sent last week to Dan Wenk, Acting Director of the National Park Service, Secretary Salazar ordered the NPS to have representatives available in Somerset County from today through Thursday (June 9 through June 11) to meet with the landowners involved and attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. On Friday, June 12, Acting Director Wenk must report the status of the negotiations to Secretary Salazar’s office. Condemnation proceedings are to be initiated if a “willing seller” agreement has not been worked out.

Condemnation is not confiscation. If the federal government seizes the required land parcels, the landowners must be paid fair market value for their property.

Secretary Salazar has made it clear that eminent domain proceedings should be avoided if at all possible, and has accordingly urged the negotiating parties to reach a settlement in their collective interest. We will know soon enough if the Secretary’s ultimatum has the desired effect. Meanwhile, the landowners – people that Secretary Salazar has praised as “good neighbors” and incidental "victims of 9/11" -- have claimed that the government has not treated them fairly, and that there is simply not enough time to work out willing seller agreements before the end of the week.

Comments

Hope the market prices will be adjusted to today's level and the (owners) suffer from the plunge of real estate prices. Had they sold two years ago, they would have gotten away far better.

If people do NOT want to sell their land they should not HAVE to sell it. The memorial is a wonderful thing but people should not have to give up their freedom of owning land. It is not a matter of life or death to the nation.

There was another plane that crashed into the pentagon. Has the government converted this area from its former use, and made it public access. Civilians and government employees died there. How about starting by moving out all the files and people on that side of the pentegon so it will be used as a memorial. They won't have to worry about buying it, they already own it.
This land in PA. is privately owned and wanted for a memorial. The relatives of those on the plane need a final place to remember the bravery, They probably do not want any more lives changed by this incident. When the land is taken at "fair market value", it more than likely will not be what they are taxing it at.

Just who decided that something has to be done by the 10th anniversary? What's wrong with the Temporary Memorial?

The Pentagon made a memorial and had the dedication last year. That site is open to the public and is very nice.

Persoanlly if landowners do not want to sell then have the memorial site smaller and do without.

Condemnation is not confiscation. If the federal government seizes the required land parcels, the landowners must be paid fair market value for their property.

Semantics. Money given to an unwilling seller at gun point is still coercion and an abuse of power.

The federal government's "eminent domain authority" arguably does not apply to the states.

Search "eminent domain" + abuse on Google, and you'll get millions of hits.

Our government has outgrown its britches. Time to end all ties to feudalism and restore private property rights.

A large memorial is not a "have to have" nor a necessity to society and private property should not be seized just to build one. If the owners do not wish to sell, they should not be made to. Frankly, I find this entire situation to be heavy-handed and unnecessary on the part of the Interior Secretary.

The land acquisition process for the Flight 93 Memorial is an emotionally charged issue with powerful arguments on both sides. Whether and how the federal government should use its eminent domain authority in the broader context of establishing and expanding NPS units is something that we'll want to explore in greater depth here at Traveler . Watch for a feature article on this topic in the near future.

This is exactly what the state of Virginia did for Shenandoah and it has created hard feelings since the 1930's. Didn't we learn our lesson then? I am someone who had my home taken through "condemnation" and it is just as bad as having it simply taken. How can we, a supposedly civilized democratic nation simply take someone's home away simply to build a memorial?

The National Park Service and/or The Families Of Flight 93 have been negotiating with these landowners for nearly five years. Enough already. The landowners say they want to sell their land to help create the Memorial, yet they want to maximize their profit on the land. If they are sincere about supporting the Memorial, then they should sell their land for fair market value as proposed by the National Park Service. The landowners will still make a profit on such a deal. The land in question consists mostly of a reclaimed strip mine and adjoining land not suitable for typical development (or all too typical over development). However, the Flight 93 National Memorial will not only legitimately preserve and honor the memory of the Heroes of Flight 93, but will preserve currently undeveloped land for the use and appreciation of ours and future generations. Throughout our Country's history, private property has been condemned by eminent domain for far less legitimate and patriotic reasons then that for which land is being sought for The Flight 93 National Memorial. It's time to get this done. In fact, getting the Memorial's land acquisition process completed is long overdue. There is a clear and patriotic need to complete this Memorial, as designed, by the 10th Anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 Terrorist attacks. The Heroes of Flight 93 fought back against the damn fools who attacked our Country. Now we need to fight for them to get this Memorial completed by Sept. 11, 2011.

Absolutly....I went to school with some of their family members that own that land and no one should have to sell their land if they want to. I just hate the gov't thinking they can use their power to get whatever they want no matter who gets hurt.

I know the girl who quit the council because she too believed it was wrong to just take someone's land. I don't care if it is for a memorial or not. They have no business sticking their nose in other people's business.

If the gov''t don't get what they want, they just take what doesn't belong to them!!! As always!!!

I pray they do not win this argument.

[This comment was edited.]

I just can't believe that the designers and approvers of this 2,200 acre memorial site had the nerve to carve such a large site plan without knowing in advance that the property would be available, and now the audacity to force the owners of the property to sell or have their property condemned.