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Sun, Sep. 10, 2006
Flight 93 memorial gets momentum
The purchase of land near Shanksville, Pa., began with "a first small step" of three acres. The park is scheduled to open in 2011.

Inquirer Staff Writer

Families of Flight 93 have sealed a deal on a postage-stamp-size parcel that would be the first tract bought for a memorial to the 40 people on board the United Airlines jetliner when it slammed into the ground near here Sept. 11.

The purchase of the three acres - only a fraction of the 2,200 planned for the Flight 93 Memorial park - is largely a symbolic gesture. But to many it is a sign that, at long last, the acquisition of land to honor the passengers and crew who thwarted an attack on Washington is gaining momentum.

"This is a first small step in what will be the larger picture of getting the balance of the acreage," said Larry Catuzzi, whose daughter Lauren Grandcolas was aboard the plane.

Supporters have overcome opposition to the park's size and cost, but federal funding has yet to flow to the National Park Service, which is overseeing the site's creation. A powerful House member from North Carolina blocked federal funding for the land for three years before dropping his opposition.

But park proponents still face other hurdles - unwilling sellers, negotiations over mineral rights, and environmental hazards from decades of coal mining at the site.

If all goes on schedule, the park will open in 2011, the 10th anniversary of terrorist attacks. The centerpiece is the memorial itself, set in a 400-acre natural "bowl" atop a mountain. Plans include a black slate plaza and a grove of 40 maples.

The park would be surrounded by 1,800 acres of protected land, mostly woods, fields and farms.

The start-up costs are estimated at nearly $60 million, about one-third of that for the land.

"We are still awaiting the federal funding," said Joanne Hanley, superintendent of the Flight 93 Memorial. "The negotiations with landowners are in different stages, but we have to have money to move forward."

The $10 million federal request for land acquisition was contested by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (R., N.C.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies. Under intense public pressure, Taylor dropped his opposition in June. But Congress has yet to vote on the request for the project's first $5 million installment.

The Families of Flight 93 group decided to move forward on its own this summer, using a portion of the $1.2 million it received from the opening weekend box office receipts of the movie United 93 to buy the three acres.

Patrick White, whose cousin Louis J. Nacke II died in the crash, said the group was on track to close on two larger parcels this fall.

"We want to demonstrate to those who are not as willing to sell that it's real and it's happening and there's money," he said.

Josh First, as former Pennsylvania director of the Conservation Fund, was among the most vocal supporters of preserving not only the crash site but thousands of acres around it in the scenic Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

First said in 2003 that he had come up with the boundaries for the park: a 1,200-acre central section to be purchased outright and a 1,000-acre buffer zone surrounding it. That land would remain in private hands but be preserved through the sale of conservation easements preventing commercial development.

Some family members said they could understand the initial opposition to the park's size.

"If I wasn't involved and heard 2,000 acres, I'd say, 'Why is it that big?' " said Ken Nacke, Louis Nacke's brother. "But they are trying to protect the town of Shanksville from the onslaught."

A nearby temporary memorial attracts 150,000 visitors a year, and organizers estimate that 250,000 a year will visit the new memorial, he said.

While the landscape remains largely unchanged, work on the memorial design, awarded to a Los Angeles architectural firm last year, is under way. And more than $7 million of the $30 million anticipated in private funding has been raised from corporations and individuals.

But with the memorial's groundbreaking slated for 2008, some family members and land owners are eager for the land acquisition to speed up.

"Personally, I wish it would go faster," said Ben Wainio, whose daughter Honor Elizabeth died aboard Flight 93. "I want to see a monument built and see it come to fruition. I'm 61 years old."

Landowner Tim Lambert said he had committed to donating six acres just beyond the row of hemlocks scorched by the explosion. But he wants fair market value for an additional 150 acres, which his grandfather bought in the 1930s.

"I feel I am walking a fine line between doing what's best for the families and making sure our family is taken care of," said Lambert, a public radio host in Harrisburg.

Catuzzi said he was dismayed to see some property owners seeking higher prices for their land with each passing year.

Some family members recognize that any deal involving multiple landowners and the federal government takes time.

The land the memorial sits on "has to come from willing sellers," Ken Nacke said. "I don't want to put pressure on landowners."

After all, he and others said, the people of Shanksville never could have anticipated their community would be part of the nation's worst terrorist act.

View plans for the memorial via http://go.philly.com/93memorial


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.