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Friday, March 14, 2008

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Tejon Ranch Veterans cemetery plans moving forward slowly

BY STEVEN MAYER, Bakersfield Californian staff writer

Mar 8 2008

There doesn’t appear to be much going on at the future site of the national veterans cemetery planned in the hills east of Bakersfield. Ground has not yet been broken (unless you count some test drilling for water Availability) and title for the 500-acre property has not yet been transferred to government hands. But one thing has changed. The VA’s National Cemetery Administration has named a director for the future facility. Wes Jones, former director of the Santa Fe National Cemetery in New Mexico, will be responsible for all burial and maintenance operations when the Kern facility is opened. In the meantime, he’s anxious to continue an outreach effort he’s already begun to help inform veterans and their families about their rights and responsibilities regarding the cemetery. “It’s in process,” Jones said of the planned property transfer from Tejon Ranch, which has agreed to donate the land. “We hope to have it deeded to us in a May-June timeline,” he said. That’s months later than an estimate in September from a Cemetery Administration spokesman who said officials expected to acquire title to the property before the end of last year. But don’t blame Jones if things appear to be moving slowly. He’s not directly involved in the development of the project. Jo Schuda, a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration in Washington, D.C., said analysis of the test wells is still in progress, and further testing is recommended. On the topic of landscaping, Schuda confirmed that the proposal for a “water-wise” design reported last year will likely be adopted by planners. That means there could be green zones around administration buildings and other areas of the cemetery, but the gravesites will probably not be watered. In September, administration officials said they were back on schedule to offer fast-track burials starting in late 2008. But Schuda placed that date in early 2009. “Our current projection is to award a construction contract in July 2008 to develop an initial burial area while the remaining portions of the cemetery are developed,” she said. This initial burial area is projected to accommodate burials beginning in January 2009, she said. Jones asked area residents to remember that the development of the cemetery will come in phases as burial plots are used over the years and decades. “We have 500 acres, but in 10 years we’ll be on a 50-acre footprint,” he said. But it’s the beginning of something that will help the community chronicle its own history and the ongoing history of the nation, he said. Just walk through an older national cemetery and you get a concrete sense of the millions who have served and the many who have fought and died in America’s historic conflicts. “It’s going to be your great-great grandchildren,” Jones said, “who look back at this effort and say, ‘Thank you.’”

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