The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has found that the proposed expansion of Arlington National Cemetery in an area containing nearly 900 trees will have no significant adverse effect on the environment and said the cemetery can move forward with its plans to create about 30,000 new burial sites.
An environmental assessment issued late last week said that the oldest trees, located between the Fort Meyer Gate and Arlington House, the home of Robert E. Lee that can be seen from the Lincoln Memorial, are estimated to be 235 years old. They would not be removed for the project, and neither would a grove with trees estimated to be 165 years old, the report said.
“The trees that would be removed on [Arlington National Cemetery] property are all in areas that were clear cut during the Civil War,” the report said. “Thus, the impacted trees are a maximum of 145 years old, but the majority are less than 105 years old and do not contribute to the Arlington House [National Register of Historic Places] listing.”
No date has been set for construction.
The proposal to create new space for remains in the Arlington Woods area of the cemetery sparked a small outcry from neighbors, first reported by the Arlington Mercury blog. Opponents wrote about 100 letters to the Corps, and an equal number of duplicates were sent by other citizens, the Corps reported. Residents gained the support of the locally powerful Civic Federation, appealed to the Arlington County Board, which largely supported their objections, and enlisted Rep. James P. Moran (D) and Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D) for help at the congressional level.
“It’s disappointing the Army Corps of Engineers did not undergo a full Environmental Impact Statement, but I understand the budget and time constraints placed on this project, and I appreciate the outreach the Army has done with the local community. Those efforts are important,” Moran said in a statement. “I also appreciate that the Arlington National Cemetery has made adjustments to its initial plan. . . . I will continue to closely monitor the project design and management going forward.”
Bernie Berne, the local activist who has led the fight to save the trees, still has hope to stop the process. He wants a parking lot to be repurposed for grave sites instead of the forest. He has nothing but disdain for the Corps’ official finding of no significant impact.
“It’s a travesty. The whole process has been a farce,” he said Monday. “They changed the placement of some roads and saved some big old trees but are taking out more small trees.”
The expansion is part of the cemetery’s master plan to add grave sites to the nearly full property where about 30 interments are conducted each day. The Navy Annex, on the opposite site of the cemetery, is being torn down to free up space for graves as well.
“Eventually, Arlington is going to close because there is no more space. That’s a given,” Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, told The Washington Post last month. “We want Arlington to continue to serve as the final resting place for all of our nation’s fallen warriors for as long as it possibly can. But Arlington does have a life span.”