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Dooley supports expanding Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley gave his "100 percent" support to giving Sylvan Springs Park to the federal government to expand Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

The declaration came after two advocates for the move spoke during the St. Louis County Council's public forum, adding that the time was right to expand the cemetery for generations of war veterans.

"Just last January, we had 497 burials in one month in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery," said Al Katzenberger, a liaison for Jefferson Barrack National Chapel, Cemetery and Expansion. "The cemetery was created in 1826 and it is filling up fast. We are going to gain some more ground from the hospital, but it's really not enough."

Katzenberger said Sylvan Springs is "a beautiful park," but it would "also make a beautiful cemetery." He said it's highly unlikely the land would be used for residential, commercial or industrial purposes.

"We would like to have this property conveyed over to the national cemetery as soon as possible," Katzenberger said. 

After Katzenberger spoke, Maryland Heights resident Mike LeBlanc presented over 2,000 signatures to the council in support of using the park to expand the cemetery. He said current estimates show that the cemetery "will exhaust its current supply by 2025."

LeBlanc and Katzenberger talk to reporters about the need to expand Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

"Our understanding is that the U.S. government is in discussions with St. Louis County government or will be in discussions with St. Louis County government about such Sylvan Springs acquisition," LeBlanc said. "To the veterans of our great St. Louis County and the surrounding seven states, which bury their veterans here, we humbly beseech you to allow Jefferson Barracks to expand this hallowed, sacred ground."

Right before the council's meeting adjourned, Dooley -- a veteran of the Vietnam War -- called the proposal an "outstanding idea."

"I would personally like to request legislation to make that so," Dooley said. "This is a good use of some of the land we own. It's the least we could do for the people that sacrificed… their lives. I'm 100 percent for it. Always have been. And will continue to be as well."

LeBlanc told reporters that both the federal government and St. Louis County would have to agree on a purchase and a transfer price. He added the federal government has to make sure that all the environmental requirements are met.

He said that if the park is added to the cemetery, it would "take us out another 25 or 30 years."

"Once that's done and they think it's a viable piece of property at this point for this, there's a process," LeBlanc said. "The federal government will bid it through the national cemetery system. And they've identified funds for it, so it should happen. There shouldn't be any reason that we know of right now, unless there's something horribly wrong environmentally."

LeBlanc added that federal and state lawmakers support the move. And he added that Dooley's public support "completes the circle."

"We're very happy it will get done, because it needs to get done," LeBlanc said.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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