Veterans cemetery gets first green light
By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 6, 2014 1:50 AM
Eli Panee of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs cemetery program goes over plans for the Wayne County project.
Construction bids for the Wayne County state veterans cemetery could go out by the end of the month, local officials have announced.
Eli D. Panee, N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs Cemetery program manager, said he received a letter from Veterans Affairs giving the county the go-ahead on the project, which is expected to get under way in September and to be completed by next summer.
Panee recently updated the Wayne County commissioners on the cemetery project, which now has a name -- the Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery.
"The reason for that is Jacksonville has a Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery," he said. "But by using the name 'Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery,' what it is going to do is to allow those that do live in the east to say, 'We are part of that (area), all the way from the Virginia border all the way down (to the South Carolina border)."
Panee said the state construction office hopes to have a pre-bid conference -- a meeting with contractors interested in the job -- by the middle of the month.
"Then the bids for the actual contract would be somewhere at the end of this month or very early in August," he said. "So we are moving pretty quickly on this project."
Depending on the weather, construction is expected to take about 10 months, Panee said.
"So if we start say in September, and that is what we are hoping, we figure to be done by June or July," he said.
The project could cost between $3.8 million and $4.5 million.
"The state put up $600,000 initially," Panee said. "What that was done for was to provide the funds to hire an architect to go ahead and design it."
SfL+a of Fayetteville was hired to design the project.
One holdup has been in the state Attorney General's Office, which has yet to complete the deed transferring the property from the county to the state, Panee said.
"But other than that we are ready to go once the Attorney General's Office completes that," he said.
The state has received a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs State Cemetery Grants Office to build the cemetery. The cemetery, which will be maintained by the state, will occupy about 73 acres on Long's Plant Farm Road just off U.S. 70 east of Goldsboro.
"One of the problems that we have with this particular site is it has a pretty high water (table)," Panee said. "The environmental company that did the study showed that groundwater is at five feet. We are going to have to put in fill -- close to two and a half feet -- in order to designate a burial site. By putting in the fill that is pretty much going to bite into a lot of the money that we probably would use for other features."
Panee showed commissioners a site rendering, but said that it had changed "dramatically" since it had been created.
The VA approved some portions of the 50-year master plan, but asked for changes in other areas, Panee said.
"We had to develop it to show that it would exist for 50 years," he said. "So what we are going to do when we start construction is to do a Phase 1. Phase 1 will actually just go in about the first 200 meters (656 feet). That is the front and that is all that the budget will allow. We are still continuing to make some changes."
Panee said he spoke with VA officials who said some additional changes were needed, mostly for the grounds. He said changes to the site's maintenance building will help pay for the work on the grounds.
Panee said 1,968 casket sites would be available initially. It will eventually be large enough for 6,000 casket sites and more than 985 cremation sites, he said.
"When we develop Phase 1, it is to last for at least a period of 10 years. Let's say we start filling up after eight years. We can always go in for an expansion."
Panee also said the cemetery will have another unique feature -- preplaced crypts.
"These are crypts that go down into the ground," he said. "What that does, it is going to save the veterans and their families money. Right now at my other three cemeteries, families have to furnish us with either what we call a vault or concrete liner in order to place the casket when they are buried.
"Here they won't have to do that because we will have these preplaced crypts. So all we do is bury the casket or their cremation urns. That is probably going to save families anywhere from $700 to $1,000. That is a real savings."
Panee said he expects burials to be slow for a while, but added that he hopes to get the word out quickly that the service will soon be available, utilizing local veterans and leaders to help get the information to service members and their families.