National cemetery pegged for Buhl; state vet cemetery in works for eastern Idaho

Teya Vitu//October 18, 2016

National cemetery pegged for Buhl; state vet cemetery in works for eastern Idaho

Teya Vitu//October 18, 2016

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has bought 8.11 acres of private land just outside Buhl to build the first national cemetery for veterans in Idaho.

The VA bought the land for $51,250 across the street from the West End Cemetery, about 14 miles west of Twin Falls, according to a VA news release.

The national cemetery will serve more than 14,000 veterans, their spouses and eligible family members.

The only other government veterans cemetery in Idaho is the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery just north of Boise. The nearest national cemeteries to Boise are in Laurel, Mont., near Billings; and three in Oregon in Portland, Roseburg, and Eagle Point near Medford.

“I think this is fantastic that they are finally reaching out to meet the needs in rural areas,” said James Earp, director of the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

The VA did not return calls about when construction of the Buhl cemetery will start or when it will open.

The VA apparently has been scouting the Magic Valley since at least 2013 for a location for a national cemetery, according to Twin Falls Times-News accounts.

The Buhl cemetery is part of the VA’s National Cemetery Administration Rural Initiative program,  launched in 2012 to build small national cemeteries in states without an open national cemetery, according to the VA release.

The VA operates 135 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

The original plan was to open eight small National Veterans Burial Grounds within existing public or private cemeteries in rural areas with veteran populations of 25,000 or less within a 75-mile radius. Idaho Falls was one of the originally targeted towns as were Elko, Nev., Cheyenne, Wyo., Laurel, Mont., Cedar City, Utah, Fargo, N.D., Rhinelander, Wis., and Calais, Maine.

From these, the VA in 2012 first converted Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel into Yellowstone National Cemetery. In July, the VA announced a land purchase in Fargo, and earlier this year was in negotiations to buy land in Cheyenne.  The VA bought land in Rhinelander in October 2015.

In the meantime, Idaho Falls has fallen off the national cemetery list, but the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery for more than a year has been  evaluating sites of roughly 25 acres in Idaho Falls, Ammon and Blackfoot for a second state veterans cemetery, Earp said.

The eastern Idaho state veterans cemetery is expected to cost $8.3 million, most of it from the federal government. The timeline is based on where Idaho Falls lands on the priority list once the new federal budget is announced.

“Realistically, it would be a three year process” to open a state veterans cemetery in eastern Idaho if the state is favorably placed on the federal priority list, Earp said.