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A New Resting Place for Interior-Based Alaskan Veterans

October 24, 2018

INTERIOR ALASKA VETERANS CEMETERY

Potential Site of the Interior Alaska Veterans Cemetery.

The Fairbanks area has the second densest population of veterans in Alaska, with an estimated 11,000 veterans residing within a 75-mile radius of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. These Alaskan veterans have limited options for burial in the state, both far from home. The nearest dedicated veterans’ cemetery is 350 miles away at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage, followed by the even farther away Sitka National Cemetery (750 miles).

After years of planning, Fairbanks-based veterans will have an option closer to home. Following numerous site investigations and several rejected sites, a site has been selected for a new Interior Alaskan Veterans Cemetery. An old rock pit along the Parks Highway at mile 344 has been chosen as the future site for the cemetery. This location has space to bury veterans and their family members for about 20 years, with room to expand, as well as scenic views of the White Mountains to the north.

Project History
The Department of Veteran Affairs (DMVA), in partnership with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF), has been working to design and construct a Veterans cemetery in Interior Alaska for 13 years. Due to the geological conditions in the region, it’s been difficult to find an appropriate site. There were two previous possible sites on the east side of Fairbanks that were both ultimately rejected. The first because of permafrost and the second because it lacked a road, as well as had potential historical and environmental conflicts due to its proximity to Davidson Ditch.

R&M has been working with the DMVA and DOT&PF on this project since 2012, providing planning site feasibility studies and design services. The overall project scope includes assistance with site evaluation and selection for a 25-acre development within a 320-acre parcel, environmental permitting in accordance with NEPA, project area survey, cemetery planning and design, site infrastructure design (including utility extension), development of cemetery construction documents in accordance with federal grant rules and extensive site grading to meet ADA guidelines, including pedestrian cemetery access.

In addition, R&M is responsible for designing the cemetery according to the Veterans Administration Veterans Cemetery Program guidelines, ensuring the appearance of the new cemetery emulates “shrine status” as an expression of appreciation and respect for those who have given so much to preserve the nation’s freedom and way of life. This includes features such as the “Arlington-esque” uniform grave markers that are found in all Veterans cemeteries. But the cemetery will also be designed to take advantage of the natural features of the site and reflect the tradition and heritage of Interior Alaska. The firm has teamed with
G. Brown Design, Inc., a landscape architecture firm that specializes in cemetery
design, to assist with this.

A large part of R&M’s effort to date has consisted of evaluating the two rejected sites for their suitability as a home for the cemetery. At the end of 2015, after both sites were found unsuitable, the project was put on hold while the DMVA and DOT&PF reevaluated and searched for a new potential site.

Current Status
In early 2018, the project was jump-started with the potential of the Parks Highway location as the cemetery site. R&M is now investigating to ensure its suitability. Investigations include survey, both aerial and LiDAR, environmental assessments and geotechnical investigations.

“We’ve finalized the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and the Limited Site Characterization, or Phase II, is currently being drafted now that lab results have been received. The Phase I would have only said yes there’s potential. The Phase II investigation involves analytical testing to help define the level of concern,” said R&M Project Manager Don Porter, PE. “We’ve also done some geotechnical work, including digging test pits and soil testing. We’ve submitted the draft report with those results, as well.”

In addition, since R&M used drone technology to take aerial photography and gather LiDAR data, the firm was able to do the boundary and design survey at the same time. This will save time in the long-run, since we don’t have to go back and conduct any additional surveys. The survey work is almost complete. Aerial photography will be finished this week and LiDAR was completed the week before.

The DMVA is waiting on the results of these tests to finalize the purchase of this new site.

Next Steps
The state intends to submit a grant application to the Veterans Cemetery Grant Program by October 2019 to help fund construction. The program is designed to provide funding to assist states, territories and tribal governments in establishing, expanding or improving Veteran cemeteries. If the grant is approved, cemetery design would begin in late 2019 and construction in late 2020.

The cemetery construction is expected to cost $7.5 million.

Close to Home
A long time coming, this cemetery will provide Interior Alaska Veterans a burial location close to home, a place where their families and friends can easily visit.

About Veterans Cemeteries
The national cemetery administration has 136 cemeteries around the nation. People eligible for burial there include members of the armed forces who died while on active duty, and those who served at least two consecutive years in the armed forces and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Spouses and dependents of Veterans can also qualify for burial in VA cemeteries.

R&M Staff Involved
Don Porter, PE; Charlie Riddle, CPG; Bob Pintner, PE; Hank Brinker, PLS; Bill Preston, PLS, GISP; Nicole Knox, PE; Jake Austin, PLS; Jason Osburn, PE; Brooks Dilley; Kristi McLean, LEED AP BD+C, CESCL; Chris Fell, CPG; Nathan Dennis; Charlie Parr, SR/WA; Brian Mullen, PE; Luke Boggess, GISP; Van Le, AICP; John Bennett, PLS, SR/WA; Taryn Oleson; Chris Black, PE; Mike Adams; Ryan McCormick; Jessica Koloski.

Project Team
Owner: Department of Veterans Affairs/Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
Civil Design Engineer: R&M Consultants, Inc.
Cemetery Landscape Architect: G. Brown Design Inc.
Architect: McCool Carlson Green
Landscape Architect: Sustainable Design Group
Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: RSA Engineering

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