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Park Service studying D-Day Memorial

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

BEDFORD, Va. | A National Park Service team assessing the private National D-Day Memorial must determine whether it legally can and should take the financially troubled outdoor museum into the federal system, an official said Wednesday.

Park Service officials must determine whether an act allowing acceptance of a site by presidential proclamation can be used in this case, Terry Moore, chief of park planning for the Northeast Region, said at a news conference.

The act has been used primarily for historical sites, he said, while the Bedford memorial is a modern tribute to an event that occurred elsewhere.

The outdoor museum that opened in 2001 honors the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II. It was built in Bedford because the community suffered one of the nation's highest per-capita losses on D-Day, when some 10,000 troops were killed or wounded in the largest air, land and sea operation in military history.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked for the Park Service assessment in response to the Virginia congressional delegation's request for the presidential proclamation. Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, visited the memorial Tuesday on the day the Park Service team arrived.

The three-member team spent two days as it began a feasibility study that normally would take two years to determine whether the memorial is suitable as a national monument. The team is looking at such issues as maintenance, infrastructure, staffing and educational programs.

Mr. Moore said the team should complete its study in about two months. If it finds the D-Day Memorial is not appropriate for the Park Service, officials may outline alternatives for preserving it.

"The real question is, 'What is the appropriate vehicle for keeping this park open?' " Mr. Moore said. "It may or may not be the National Park Service."

Only 5 percent to 10 percent of the sites studied for inclusion in the park system are accepted, Mr. Moore said.

"Why should we be managing a site if there's someone else to do it?" he said.

In the poor economy, Mr. Moore said the Park Service has had requests to take over other financially troubled sites. One under consideration is Washington's Crossing, the spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War.

William McIntosh, president of the foundation that runs the memorial, has said it is on the verge of closing because donations are down.

Expenses run about $2.2 million yearly, only $600,000 of which comes from visitors.

Mr. McIntosh said Wednesday he was gratified to have the visit by Park Service officials, but the memorial continues to operate only day to day.

"This is not an economy that's favorable to nonprofits," he said.

The foundation also faced financial disaster soon after it opened, prompting a criminal investigation and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Federal fraud charges eventually were dropped against the memorial's former director, Richard B. Burrow. Soaring construction costs put the foundation some $7 million in debt, but the deficit was erased by 2006.