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SC veterans cemetery proposed on Santee Cooper property

(Nov. 11, 2008) World War II veteran Harry J. Thomas, right, stands with Brig. Gen. Brett T. Williams, during the singing of the national anthem at a Veterans Day ceremony at the 18th Wing headquarters at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.
Ryan C. Delcore, U.S. Navy, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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FILE - (Nov. 11, 2008) World War II veteran Harry J. Thomas, right, stands with Brig. Gen. Brett T. Williams, during the singing of the national anthem at a Veterans Day ceremony at the 18th Wing headquarters at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

The South Carolina Department of Veterans' Affairs is close to getting land for a new veterans cemetery from a public utility.

Santee Cooper would donate 90 acres near its headquarters in Moncks Corner in Berkeley County under a plan approved May 24 by the state legislative panel that oversees capital improvement projects, The State reported.

South Carolina has one of the nation's largest per capita veteran populations, Veterans' Affairs Secretary William Grimsley said. It has three national veterans cemeteries and one state veterans cemetery, and is looking to establish at least one more state veterans burial ground within the next decade, Grimsley said.

The state is home to about 400,000 veterans, nearly half of whom are 65 or older, and eight major U.S. military installations. While the veteran population in South Carolina is expected to decline somewhat in the decades ahead, the state should retain a higher concentration of veterans than most others, an advantage for securing federal dollars.

One or more new cemeteries would further expand the landscape of veterans services in South Carolina, which recently opened veterans nursing homes in Florence and Cherokee counties and has three more long-term care facilities for veterans in the works.

Over the past year, the veterans department has been scouting potential burial sites throughout the state and is attempting to get land donations in several locations, Grimsley said.

To qualify, a site must be easily accessible, have at least 60 acres of usable land with potential for expansion, be located more than 75 miles from any other veterans cemetery, among other conditions.

Once Veterans' Affairs owns the land, the agency can apply for a grant from the National Cemetery Administration to cover development, construction and future burial costs, while the state would be responsible for day-to-day operations, staffing and landscaping, Grimsley said.

If Veterans' Affairs does not receive federal grant approval, ownership reverts to the donor.

Local officials are talking with owners of sites in Bamberg and Union counties about possible donation, Grimsley said.

The Moncks Corner site is located along the U.S. Highway 52 bypass overlooking the Tailrace Canal and close to the historic sites of Fort Fairlawn, Stony Landing and the ruins of Biggin Church.

Santee Cooper acquired the land in 1991 but subsequently determined it did not need the property and has authorized its donation to Veterans' Affairs.

"Santee Cooper is honored to have the opportunity to play a role in bringing a veteran's cemetery to our community," the utility's general counsel wrote to the state's Joint Bond Review Committee. The land, which currently serves as a recreation area that includes an off-road bicycle trail, has been appraised at nearly $2.2 million.

More than 45,000 veterans and their family members are buried in South Carolina's four existing veterans cemeteries, located in Beaufort, Florence, Anderson and at Fort Jackson in Richland County, Grimsley said.

Beaufort, Florence and Fort Jackson are national cemeteries, accepting veterans from anywhere in the country. State cemeteries limit burial to South Carolina residents and service members who were stationed in the Palmetto State.

In addition to veterans, the cemeteries will accept one immediate family member.

All four of South Carolina's veterans cemeteries are active and accepting new burials, but the Beaufort and Florence national cemeteries, which were established in the 19th century, are expected to be at capacity within the next two decades, Grimsley said.

M.J. "Dolly" Cooper Veterans Cemetery in Anderson, which opened in 2007, should remain active in its current configuration until about 2050. Fort Jackson National Cemetery, which opened in 2009, won't be full until 2070, he said.