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Idaho approves 2nd state veterans cemetery, set for eastern Idaho

The Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake, which opened in 2010 (Washington State Dept. of Veterans Affairs)
The Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake, which opened in 2010 (Washington State Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

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By Betsy Z. Russell

BOISE – Plans for a second Idaho state veterans cemetery in eastern Idaho won approval from the state Land Board on Tuesday, nearly a decade after plans for a North Idaho state veterans cemetery were dropped.

That earlier plan was foiled when the feds chose a site for a new veterans cemetery in Spokane County, across the state line from Idaho’s planned Kootenai County location. That meant another wouldn’t be approved for federal funding so close. So the state turned its eyes toward eastern Idaho.

The Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake, Wash., adjacent to Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane County, opened in 2010. It serves an estimated 140,000 veterans and their families in the region.

The new Idaho site is on 40 acres of farmland adjacent to State Hospital South in Blackfoot that’s already owned by the state. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is turning it over to the state Land Board by quit-claim deed to meet federal requirements for a new veterans cemetery.

Tracy Schaner, deputy director of Idaho’s Division of Veterans Services, told the Land Board the land is currently being leased to farmers; the planned deal would allow the leasing to continue until the ground is needed for various phases of the new cemetery.

Schaner said the division is expecting additional federal grant funds in October. “Ground could be broken as early as 2018 for the first phase of the site,” she said.

The state division has identified 23,000 current eastern Idaho veterans and their families who could make use of the new cemetery. The current Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise, which opened in 2004, has room for more than 8,000 grave sites, a scatter garden, flag plaza, memorial walk and other features.

At the new site in Blackfoot, the initial phase of construction will develop up to 23 acres, and include 500 pre-placed crypts, 400 columbarium niches, and 150 in-ground burial plots. The initial phase also would include construction of a main entrance, committal shelter, in-ground cremains burial areas, roads, a maintenance facility, an assembly area and supporting infrastructure.

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the state Land Board, asked if the division already has heard from veterans who want to be buried there. Schaner said, “Once we are ready to break ground, we will start taking applications and pre-registrations.”

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney asked how the state Department of Health and Welfare came to own the land. Dave Taylor, Health and Welfare deputy director, said the department obtained it when State Hospital South was formed in the 1880s, and added onto it over time; the residents of the state mental hospital previously used it as a working farm.

In addition to the new state veterans cemetery, the U.S. Veterans Administration announced in 2016 that it had purchased 8.11 acres in Buhl, Idaho, for a national veterans cemetery, under its National Cemetery Administration Rural Initiative program. That program is aimed at establishing small national veterans cemeteries in states that don’t have an open national cemetery; its location will serve an estimated 14,000 veterans and family members in the Magic Valley.

The new eastern Idaho state veterans cemetery won’t require any state general funds for construction, though the state will cover operating costs once it’s up and running; the estimated full construction cost is $8.3 million. State lawmakers approved a resolution calling for the new eastern Idaho cemetery in 2016.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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