Families in Western North Carolina have been hearing quite a bit this week about the Flight 93 Memorial taking shape in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Some of the information has been accurate, but a great deal of it has been incorrect – intentionally or unintentionally.
I have a very deep gratitude for the brave men and women of Flight 93, and the utmost respect for their families. The patriots aboard Flight 93 were among the first Americans to die fighting the war on terror and their efforts are truly deserving of a memorial.
Three years ago a proposal, with no cost estimate, was submitted to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee – which I chair – asking for federal dollars to build a memorial to commemorate the tragedy of Flight 93. I agreed to work with a 50/50 cost-share proposal with the state of Pennsylvania for a total of approximately $25 million: $12.5 million from the federal government and $12.5 million from the state. A committee was formed to propose a design for the memorial and to put together a funding plan to cover both annual maintenance costs and a portion of the construction costs. In the last two years, the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has provided more than $2 million for planning, design and engineering to get the project underway.
The memorial committee has now submitted a plan calling for the purchase of 2000 acres, an area three times larger than Arlington National Cemetery, and a variety of structures which they say could cost some $60 million. Realistically, it could cost between $75 million and $100 million.
What we do not want to do is embarrass the country or the families of those aboard Flight 93 with a memorial that is only partially funded, in either construction or long-term maintenance costs. Supporters of the memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, for example, estimated they would have a million visitors a year and would raise substantial nonfederal funds. In reality, they are having less than 50,000 visitors per year and are unable to raise a great portion of the expected private money. They are now requesting millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to step in and replace un-materialized pledges. Supporters of the memorial for victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are also having difficulties raising money and there are reports that the cost of the memorial has risen from $500 million to $800 million.
We face billions of dollars in requests for various new tributes and memorials, and for backlog maintenance in our existing parks and federally-owned lands. It would be absolutely unacceptable to the memory of the sacrifice of those aboard Flight 93 to fail to adequately provide for future operations and maintenance of this memorial. The Interior Subcommittee is simply trying to refrain from making commitments of unrealistic support that will either discourage private fundraising efforts or fail to meet our commitment to the country and the families of the heroes aboard Flight 93.
Our Fiscal Year 2007 budget has not yet been marked-up by either the House or Senate. In it, however, we will ensure that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 – who sacrificed all – will receive a lasting tribute to their memories and the values of freedom and liberty for which they stood.