Flight 93 National Memorial Groundbreaking is Finally Scheduled

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Flight 93 National Memorial will take place early next month. Helping the Flight 93 families to celebrate the long-awaited event will be a long list of dignitaries. Everybody’s thinking about that 10th anniversary deadline.

When legislation authorizing the Flight 93 National Memorial was signed into law on September 24, 2002, it seemed a sure bet that the memorial would be completed and opened to the public without undue delay. But now we’re more than seven years down the road and the project still exists mostly on paper. The temporary memorial that sits some 500 yards from the crash site only hints at what is meant to be.

There have been heaps of problems, a multitude of headaches, and seemingly interminable delays. There was squabbling about issues major and minor. The severely criticized master design had to be reworked. Private fundraising lagged. Most of all, land acquisition hit snag after snag until it seemed that only a legislative taking could get things moving. It was beginning to look like the memorial would not be finished by the 10th anniversary of the crash.

That perception was a big, big problem. September 11, 2011, is sort of etched in stone as Dedication Day. The memorial – or at least the most important elements of it – had better be ready for public use by that 10th anniversary date or there are going to be a lot of very unhappy people, including some elected officials and other heavy hitters who have cashed political chips and thrown their weight around in full view of the public.

Prominent among them is Ken Salazar, who, while still on his shakedown cruise as Interior Secretary, made repeated trips to Stonycreek Township to jawbone balking landowners and set the right tone of urgency and common purpose for a breakthrough on land acquisition. Fortunately, this and related actions shook things loose. Last February, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell traveled to the site and left with their signatures attached to a letter of commitment to substantially finish the memorial by September 11, 2011.

By late August, the land acquisition obstacle was finally breached. Now, with the conspicuous exception of private fundraising, which remains a whopping $20 million short of its $30 million dollar goal, the essential elements are in place. All of the land for the site has been acquired or legally promised, and without the use of eminent domain.

The groundbreaking ceremony at the site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is scheduled for noon on Saturday, November 7. The Families of Flight 93 and all of the other prominent stakeholders will be there, of course, and so will the many elected officials, bureaucrats, and others who deserve (or want to have) a share of the credit. At the head of the stellar gathering will be Ken Salazar, Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), and U.S. Representatives John Murtha (D-PA) and Bill Shuster (R-PA).

If you attend the groundbreaking, you will see the shovels turn and hear inspiring speeches about the 40 passengers and crew whose heroic deeds prevented United Flight 93 from taking out the U.S. Capitol or the White House on 9/11. You will not hear the tick-tick-ticking of a clock in the background, but many on hand will be keenly aware of that looming 10th anniversary deadline.