By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff Writer March 22, 2013
A 27-acre addition to the northwest portion of Arlington National Cemetery will be ready for burials and inurnments before the year 2020.
The Millennium Expansion Project will feature multi-tiered topography, multi-columbarium sites and will enlarge the cemetery for 30,000 burial and niche spaces. Part of the construction project will be built on land once belonging to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the National Park Service.
The new part of cemetery will roughly border Arlington Woods, ANC's Ord-Weitzel Drive to the JBM-HH bus motor pool along McNair Road to behind the Old Post Chapel.
The Millennium Expansion Project will also include a pair of committal service shelters, a perimeter wall columbarium and a reclamation of an eroded stream which will be one of the natural showcases of the endeavor.
A time table is already in place to move the Millennium Project forward.
"We have a very aggressive [construction] schedule laid out," Army Corps of Engineers' Greg Hegge said while visitors toured the JBM-HH portion of the Millennium Project March 16. "Of course, there are a lot of variables in play ... If we can satisfy all the stakeholders, our aggressive schedule is to try to award a construction contract by the end of this fiscal year -- by the end of September 2013.
"Shortly thereafter, we can break ground," Hegge continued. "Two and a half to three years of construction would put completion somewhere in 2016. Now, after construction is complete, the ground needs to sit for awhile before they start using it. That duration is typically three years, so late this decade; we theoretically could be ready for burials."
Close to 100 people attended the three-hour open house which included bus tours to integral sites of the project and a video overview of the proposed site plan. Feedback to the project was expressed and entertained during stops at the two principle project sites, which were the ANC maintenance yard and JBM-HH's picnic area.
The ANC staff and Army Corps of Engineers staff were asked a variety of questions ranging from environmental issues to the long-range plans of the cemetery. Army Col. Tori Bruzese, ANC engineer, addressed the future of the cemetery early in the open house.
"We are going to extend the life of the cemetery," said Bruzese during the formal overview.
She also outlined changes made from the original plan to the current blueprint -- a blueprint that is still being tweaked with the preservation of additional trees near the JBM-HH site.
"When we started the Millennium Project … the [first plan], we found, lacked a few things. It didn't take into consideration the careful balancing you have to do with the environment, the operational needs and the coordination that has to be done to build something of this scale and magnitude," she said. "We had to develop a road and a system in here that would allow the caissons to maneuver as well as the parking of vehicles. The original plan was very one-dimensional and was highly dependent upon in-ground burials. The national trends [are] that folks are cremating more and more, so we put in columbariums that are contoured with the lay of the land."
Many attending the open house were concerned with the removal of trees from historic areas, including the Arlington Woods, which are adjacent to the Lee-Custis mansion. According to ANC and the Army Corps of Engineers, 882 trees will be removed while 1,804 on the overall site will be preserved. "We are not doing anything with Arlington Woods [National Park Service property]. These woods which sit behind Lee-Custis Mansion will stay intact."
While speaking to attendees, ANC Executive Director Kathryn A. Condon paid special attention to the environmental needs of the cemetery and the surrounding area.
"We are doing all we can to make sure we preserve every tree here in the cemetery," Condon told the audience inside the Women's Memorial auditorium.
"The initial plan -- the one I first showed you -- had no regard for the environment. It filled in the stream and took down every tree."
The current blueprint includes restoring and revitalizing a natural stream and saving tress within 50 to 100 feet of the stream, but the majority of the trees which will be taken down will come down on the JMB-HH side of the construction. Those passing the project site on McNair Road will also see a change in topography as a large amount of earth-moving will be done to produce a road through the site and an agreeable angle to the landscape in already steep terrain.