- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sen. John McCain has asked the Army to expand Arlington National Cemetery by claiming nearby land that local government agencies instead want to use as a bus-maintenance facility, saying in a letter released Thursday that it would be “shameful” to miss this opportunity.

But Arlington County called the letter surprising, since the Army has already deemed that land unfit for burial, so it likely wouldn’t be able to use it for graves anyway.

It’s the latest struggle for the 624-acre cemetery, which has been active since the Civil War but will run out of gravesites by 2025.

The 2013 demolition of the Navy Annex at the Pentagon has freed up land, and Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation are hoping to claim some of that space for a museum and a transit facility.

Mr. McCain, in a letter to Army Secretary John M. McHugh, said that would cut into the space that could go to graves.

“It would be shameful to have to tell the family of a fallen American hero that there is no space available at Arlington National Cemetery, because rather than expand its grounds, Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation decided to build a bus maintenance facility,” Mr. McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in his letter to Mr. McHugh.

Mr. McCain said he has heard that negotiations have stalled because of Arlington’s insistence on protecting the bus facility.

But Arlington said it was shocked at the letter, because the county has already taken steps to try to maximize burial plots by agreeing to give over some land — and said the Army has concluded it can’t even use the extra land Mr. McCain is eyeing for burials.

“Where the building was… we were going to have our museum site. The Army said, ‘We can use that land for burial. We want you to go south of Columbia Pike because that land isn’t suitable for burial,’” Brian Stout, a federal liaison for Arlington County, said.

Arlington’s current vision would allow the bus facility, an expansion to the Air Force Memorial and a historical museum.

Mr. Stout said they have tried to keep Mr. McCain’s committee in the loop, and said they hope to finalize an agreement with the Army soon.

The county’s proposal could lead to 7,600 fewer gravesites, Dustin Walker, a McCain spokesman said.

The current land division proposal gives the county between 7 and 8 acres of land, excluding the road, but the Army is pushing for a road alignment that would shift Columbia Pike further south and give the county less than 5 acres, Army documents obtained by The Washington Times show.

“The first priority for the use of available land adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery should be to expand its grounds so that the families of American heroes are not denied the opportunity to lay their loved ones to rest in our nation’s most hallowed cemetery. Senator McCain is urging the Army to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure that the alignment of Columbia Pike results in the maximum number of interment sites for Arlington National Cemetery,” Mr. Walker said.

The cemetery has already begun growing. The Millennium Project, an $84 million and 27-acre planned expansion to add 30,000 new resting places, is expected to be completed next summer.

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