- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) | One man inherited property that his grandfather bought during the Depression. A Lutheran pastor owns a cottage where he planned to retire with his wife. Two others own businesses.

But they and other property owners in rural southwestern Pennsylvania knew things would change in the aftermath of United Flight 93’s crash on Sept. 11, 2001, which killed 40 passengers and crew members and four terrorist hijackers. Plans were soon in the works for a memorial to honor the victims. Property owners say they realized that and were willing to cooperate and help make it happen.

But now that the government intends to take their land by eminent domain so the Flight 93 memorial can be built by the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, property owners say they’re disappointed and surprised by the plan.

They also disputed that negotiations have taken place and said they’ve either not been made offers, or were only provided offers within the past week.

The National Park Service “apologized about the way it’s come together, but what’s sad is they had all these years to put this together and they haven’t,” said Randall Musser, who owns about 62 acres that the Park Service wants to acquire.

“They haven’t ever really gotten officially started with negotiations,” he said Thursday. Appraisers were just at his land on Tuesday.

Mr. Musser served on the committee that helped establish the park’s boundaries and said landowners were promised in 2002 that eminent domain would not be used.

While landowner Tim Lambert knew that eminent domain, or condemnation, was a possibility, he thought it was unlikely and that the Park Service and a victims’ family group working to acquire land wanted to buy larger parcels before dealing with owners of smaller properties.

“It’s absolutely a surprise. I’m shocked by it. I’m disappointed by it,” said Mr. Lambert, who owns nearly 164 acres that his grandfather bought in the 1930s. The Park Service plans to condemn two parcels totaling about five acres - land he said he always intended to donate for the memorial.

He said he had mainly dealt with the Families of Flight 93 and said he’s provided the group all the information it’s asked for, including an appraisal.

The Park Service defended its plans.

“We had a group of people who took some very heroic actions. It’s just fitting and right that we get this done in time for the 10th anniversary,” spokesman Phil Sheridan said.

The Park Service teamed up with the Families of Flight 93 to work with landowners since before 2005 to acquire the land. “But with few exceptions, these negotiations have been unsuccessful,” the Park Service said.

Mr. Sheridan said he did not want to characterize any individual landowner as unwilling to negotiate, but, “Basically, at this point, we have not been able to acquire all the land we need,” he said.

Even with willing sellers, Mr. Sheridan said title questions, liens and other claims can arise that would have to be worked out and could delay the project.

The seven property owners own about 500 acres still needed for what will ultimately be a $58 million, 2,200-acre permanent memorial and national park at the crash site near Shanksville.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide