BLACKFOOT – If all goes as planned and construction stays on schedule, on Veterans Day 2022, Idaho will have a second cemetery for its veterans and it will be located in Blackfoot under the name Southeast Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.
With no discussion except approving comments, the Bingham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to grant the conditional use permit requested by the Idaho Division of Veterans Services to place the cemetery on 40 acres of land off Cromwell Lane east of State Hospital South in an area zoned for Agriculture.
County Planning and Zoning Administrator Allen Jensen told the commissioners that all cemeteries in Idaho require conditional use permits.
Jay Gibbons from the Boise landscape planning and architecture firm South, Beck and Baird made the presentation to the zoning board. He is project manager of the cemetery landscaping design under his firm’s contract with the Idaho Public Works Department.
Gibbons said once the state legislature endorsed funding of a veterans cemetery in eastern Idaho, a search began in 2013 for a suitable location. He said they looked at 30 sites before settling on the Blackfoot location on state land under the control of the Department of Health and Welfare.
The initial estimated cost of the cemetery was $8.3 million, with $7,496,100 coming in the form of a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Construction Grant Program, and the State of Idaho providing matching funds of $809,400 in Veterans Recognition funds
However, expectations since the VA grant was awarded are that the cost will be closer to $6.7 million. Under federal law, in states where veterans cemeteries are constructed, the VA is authorized to participate in 100 percent of architectural and engineering costs, but states are required to provide a match of 10 percent for those same costs, plus any costs not covered by the grant. The state is also obligated to fund and operate the cemetery once it’s completed.
Gibbons said the cemetery will be constructed in phases, with 13 acres of the land to be developed in the first phase. That amount of space is projected to last for 50 years, he said.
The design of the cemetery is elaborate, with everything a bereaved family could wish for when it lays a loved one to rest. It includes 500 preplaced crypts, 400 columbarium niches (vaults with recesses where crematory urns can be placed), a shelter where committal services can be held, a memorial wall, and a garden where ashes of cremated remains can be scattered,
The cemetery will be separated from the farmed area by a buffer zone with berms and fencing. There will be ornamental fencing on both sides of the entry way, a flag plaza, an avenue of flags and a POW flag, a memorial walk, entrance walls and gates, and many other things.
According to the IDVS, there are more than 20,000 veterans living in Eastern Idaho who will be eligible for interment in the cemetery. In response to a question from a board member, Gibbons said wives of veterans can also be buried there.
The cemetery land is currently leased out for farming under a long-term lease, he said, and that use will continue on land surrounding the 13 acres, but the agricultural use will not interfere with its primary purpose.
Gibbons said the project will go to bid in May, the contract will be awarded in June, and they hope to be ready to break ground by August. “We’re planning for dedication services on Veterans Day 2022,” he concluded.