County in line to get $6 million grant
By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 2, 2013 1:46 PM
A nearly six-year quest to establish a veterans' cemetery in Wayne County is one step closer to becoming a reality following Tuesday's announcement that the state is expected to be awarded a $6 million federal grant for the project.
Local officials say the cemetery would not only pay tribute to veterans, but would help the county protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base by helping control encroachment around the base. The cemetery would also have an economic impact in tourism dollars, they said.
The cemetery, which will be built and maintained by the state, would be located off Longs Plant Farm Road east of Goldsboro.
The county received a letter from George Eisnbach, the acting director of the Veterans Cemetery Grants Service Agency, notifying it of the award.
Former county commissioner Andy Anderson championed the project all the way to Capitol Hill.
Anderson said state Sen. Louis Pate told him two weeks ago that everything had been approved on the county and state levels. However, Anderson said Pate did not mention the grant.
"It sounds great and like they are going to fund it this year. But with the situation in Washington right now, I had doubts about it -- if it would be funded this year or delayed," Anderson said.
Then, the county got the good news this week.
"We have been working on this for about four years, and they are advising us that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to award us a grant in 2014," Smith said during the commissioners' board meeting.
The grant won't be awarded until "certain things" are done, such as an environmental assessment, Smith said. The state has appropriated $600,000 for that study.
"This is a 75-acre project," he said. "We have some other due diligence to do on the property itself. The board and attorney are well aware of that and we are working on that as we speak."
Smith said he has asked officials in other parts of the state about the impact such cemeteries have had on their communities.
"We are estimating that the impact, once this is established, beginning the first year, it will have a $4 million to $5 million impact annually as to visitors, services, people that will stay, who will come and visit loved ones who have been brought to the veterans' cemetery," the county manager said. "Obviously, it will have an impact on our local businesses. It is a tourist attraction. If you look at the ones in New Bern, Jacksonville, Salisbury and in Black Mountain, they are big draws. But it also is a testament to the veterans and folks who have given their lives for us."
Smith told commissioners that Oct. 15 is the deadline to respond to the grant letter.
County Attorney Borden Parker told commissioners that if they are interested in the grant that he would recommend responding promptly.
"I think we need to move forward with it," Commissioner Wayne Aycock said. "This is just letting them know that we are interested. We are not making any commitment, but I don't like to wait until the deadline. We can always back out later if we choose to."
Aycock then made a motion to authorize commission Chairman Steve Keen to send an acceptance letter. It was unanimously approved.
The tourism will have an impact, but the cemetery also will help protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Commissioner Ray Mayo said.
"It protects the flight path at the base," he said.
Anderson said that goal was what he had in mind when he proposed the cemetery nearly six years ago.
"It is nice to have a cemetery, but if you save the base it is a good 25 percent of the economy around here," he said. "This will help us. This is just one more step, and it shows good faith in our efforts to try and stop encroachment. It will be a good feather in our cap."
After six years of work, Anderson said the news that the project is moving forward is welcome.
"My comment is one word, 'Hooray.' That is for the military. Hooray for the veterans and hooray for the economy of Wayne County. That is what my goal has been all about, is making the economy better and the standard of living better over the past 30 years. That is why I am happy, it is just another step in helping."