A long, sometimes acrimonious, effort to secure land for the Flight 93 Memorial came to fruition Monday when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the government has reached agreement with all the affected landowners for the properties needed to build the memorial honoring those who died in the western Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.
“The fields of western Pennsylvania, where the heroes of Flight 93 perished, are hallowed ground for a grateful nation,” Secretary Salazar said. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the landowners, the Families of Flight 93 and the employees of the National Park Service, we have reached this important milestone in properly honoring the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives that day. The Flight 93 Memorial will soon stand in their honor.”
The settlements came less than two months after the federal government suggested it would use its powers of eminent domain to seize the properties if agreement couldn't be reached. The holdup back in June was 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 June, at the invitation of U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, D-Pa., Secretary Salazar traveled to Somerset County to meet with the landowners as well as the Families of Flight 93. Following the meetings, Secretary Salazar delayed earlier Park Service plans to condemn the properties in favor of continued negotiations with the landowners. A few weeks later, the secretary traveled back to Somerset County to meet with the landowners again to help further the negotiations.
As a result of these negotiations, the National Park Service has signed agreements with the eight landowners whose land was needed to complete the first phase of the memorial. According to Acting NPS Director Dan Wenk, the NPS was successful in reaching negotiated settlements with seven of eight property owners. Back in January, the eighth property owner, Svonavec Incorporated, came to a mutual agreement with the NPS to allow the courts to establish fair compensation for the property. The NPS expects that the U.S. Department of Justice will file the court documents for the Svonavec property within the next two weeks.
“We expect closings on the remaining properties to be complete by mid-October, which allows construction to begin immediately after our groundbreaking in November,” Acting Director Wenk said. “This keeps us on-track to complete the Memorial by September 11, 2011.”
One of the most compelling stories of September 11, 2001, when terrorists seized four airlines, is that of Flight 93, the hijacked United Airlines passenger plane that terrorists intended to crash into a Washington, D.C., target (The Capitol? The White House?), but which ended up crashing instead in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in Somerset County about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It was the only one of the four planes hijacked that day that did not reach its target. The others crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A larger tragedy in our nation’s capital was averted by the brave actions of the crew and passengers who defeated the terrorists and died in that crash. Their ordeal and their heroism, embraced in the famous phrase “Let’s Roll!”, has become the stuff of legend and a source of inspiration to a grateful nation.