- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

SOMERSET, Pa. | The federal government backtracked Friday and said it would not to seize the western Pennsylvania property needed to build a memorial to the passengers and crew of the hijacked airplane that crashed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, saying instead it would renew negotiations with landowners.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, met Friday with people who own the land where the flight crashed. The meeting came a month after the National Park Service announced that talks to get the remaining land for the memorial were unsuccessful and it would seize the site through its authority under eminent domain.

The government wants the memorial built in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and the crash of Flight 93, but has been locked in an at-times testy standoff with area residents over the site.

“They too were the victims of 9/11 in terms of what happened,” Mr. Salazar said of the landowners. “I do believe we will find a good way and a positive way to move forward.”

Landowners will receive fair-market value for their property, the interior secretary said. Going forward, the head of the National Park Service’s acquisitions program will be directly responsible for communicating with the families.

The announcement, though, does not take eminent domain off the table. The government said it still has the option to use it, but will do so only as a last resort.

Christine Williams, who along with her husband owns about six acres at the site, said she thinks the announcement will help the process move faster - but that it doesn’t make giving up the land any easier.

“This was to be a property that we retired to,” a tearful Mrs. Williams said. “We didn’t want to leave, and we still don’t want to leave.”

Some landowners are also questioning whether there is enough time to strike a deal and have the memorial ready for a 2011 opening.

Mr. Specter said the “landowners have been good neighbors and there have been some miscommunications. Here and now we have to recognize the contributions of the landowners.”

Flight 93 was flying from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it was diverted by hijackers. The official 9/11 commission report said the hijackers crashed the plane when passengers rebelled and tried to take control of the cockpit.

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