Arlington Cemetery Proposal Put on Hold Officials Say Plan to Transfer Land From Navy Annex, Fort Myer Needs Review

11 August 1998, The Washington Post

A congressional proposal to expand Arlington National Cemetery onto land now occupied by the Navy Annex and Fort Myer has been at least temporarily put on hold, but officials predicted that in the long term, at least some of the property may be turned into grave sites.

Members of a House-Senate conference committee said yesterday they have agreed to remove language from a Defense Department appropriations bill that would have transferred the land to the cemetery, which is approaching full capacity.

Instead, the bill calls on the Army to study the issue and consult with local officials, according to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who helped negotiate the new language. A conference committee report containing the compromise language is hung up on several other Defense issues and has not been approved.

The author of the proposed land transfer said yesterday he agreed to withdraw language that would transfer the land, pending a study to resolve legal issues involved.

“I'm going to pull it out for now,” said Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “I'm not going to give up on it. We'll resume the fight next year.”

Arlington Cemetery is a place of hallowed national meaning — last month, it became the final resting place for two U.S. Capitol Police officers slain by a gunman. For many, the ceremonies at Arlington helped ease the country's trauma.

But the cemetery is expected to run out of space by about 2025 unless it is expanded, officials said. With the aging of World War II and Korean War veterans, about 5,000 grave sites are being filled each year in the 612-acre cemetery.

Stump's proposal, attached to a bill that cleared the House earlier this summer, would have transferred 36.5 acres from the Navy Annex and eight acres from Fort Myer to Arlington Cemetery. The move would create sufficient burial sites to last until 2040, officials said. The proposal has sparked anxiety in Arlington County, where community leaders complained that they had not been consulted about such a major decision.

Officials said they welcomed word that the issue, which is complicated by title issues involving some of the land, would now be studied.

“It's good news,” said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who represents Arlington in Congress. “Arlington County really deserved to have a role in the decision-making process. Now they will be consulted.”

“That's a good thing,” said Chris Zimmerman (D), chairman of the Arlington County Board. “Our position all along was that this was a decision that need not be made in haste.”

Nonetheless, Moran and Zimmerman say that turning at least some of the land over to the cemetery may prove to be its best use.

“The final solution might be what Congressman Stump proposed,” Zimmerman said. “I wouldn't be surprised if some of it becomes grave sites.”

“It's possible we'll do exactly what [Stump] wants us to do,” Moran said.

The superintendent of Arlington Cemetery, J.C. Metzler Jr., said in a recent interview that because the cemetery has enough space to last about 25 years, the decision to study the issue further would not pose a significant problem.

The 57-year-old Navy Annex is to be torn down eventually, but because of ongoing renovation work at the Pentagon, the Defense Department expects to continue using the annex as space for dislocated workers until 2010. With its panoramic hilltop view, the land has been eyed by federal officials as a possible memorial site.

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