- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico hopes to open its first state-owned veterans cemetery in the spring of 2016, according to a top official in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

State Veterans’ Services Secretary Timothy Hale said Wednesday the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has notified the state it plans to provide a grant to establish a cemetery in Gallup in northwestern New Mexico.

The final award of the grant hinges on Congress and the president reaching an agreement on a federal budget.

Hale said groundbreaking could start next spring and the goal is to open the cemetery the following year.

“It is an exciting location because it is such an underserved portion of our veteran population,” Hale said in an interview.

The cemetery is expected to serve western portions of the state and the Navajo Nation, providing more burial options for veterans and their spouses than the national cemeteries in Santa Fe and at Fort Bayard in New Mexico. There’s also the Fort Bliss National Cemetery in Texas outside of El Paso.

More than half of New Mexico’s 170,000 veterans live too far from the national cemeteries in the state, according to the federal agency that runs 131 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

The cemetery at Gallup will meet standards for a national cemetery and is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million, according to Hale. The federal government will pay to develop the cemetery but the state will be responsible for its operation and maintenance.

Gallup was among four proposed cemeteries submitted to the federal agency for grant funding. The others - Angel Fire, Carlsbad and Fort Stanton - remain pending, and Hale said state plans to annually update their applications to try to secure federal financing.

The state has allocated $600,000 as seed money to plan, design and develop veterans cemeteries in rural areas. The federal government will reimburse the state and the start-up money will become available for the other proposed cemeteries, Hale said.

Gallup donated about a five-acre parcel to the state for the veterans cemetery. The site is adjacent to a municipal cemetery.

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