- Associated Press - Friday, December 11, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - An environmental law firm is suing to block plans to sell a 38-acre swath of St. Louis County parkland for the expansion of one of the nation’s busiest national veterans’ cemetery.

The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in St. Louis County on behalf of three taxpayers, insists the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has land options that don’t have to involve swallowing up more than half of 70-acre Sylvan Springs park for the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

St. Louis County, which has owned the park since 1950, and the VA have agreed to mutually appraise the value of the section of the park that would go toward broadening the nation’s fifth-busiest military resting place. Officials have estimated that without expansion, the cemetery will run out of grave sites sometime in the next six years.

More than 302,000 veterans and their relatives are buried at Jefferson Barracks, and the additional 38 acres are estimated to meet the demand for military personnel and immediate family burials through roughly 2038.

Messages left Friday with spokespeople for the VA were not immediately returned.

Opponents of the land sale have argued that it is at best a short-term fix, and they view selling portions of Sylvan Springs park as an encroachment on a neighborhood asset.

The lawsuit alleges the sale is illegal because the U.S. government dedicated the park to the county, and because the county used voter-approved bonds and taxes devoted to parks.

“A park is a park forever, or it’s not a park,” said Henry Robertson, an attorney at the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit, St. Louis-based public interest provider of legal services linked to environmental and public health concerns.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include two former St. Louis County parks employees, one of them a veteran and former VA worker.

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