Dignitaries in Laurel for cemetery groundbreaking
Montana's top elected officials were in Laurel Monday for the groundbreaking at the new Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery north of Laurel.
Those attending included Gov. Brian Schweitzer, U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg. Laurel Mayor Ken Olson and Yellowstone County Commissioners Bill Kennedy, John Ostlund and Jim Reno also participated in the groundbreaking with area veterans.
Construction is expected to begin soon and the first phase of the cemetery will be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Initial development plans call for the cemetery to be developed in up to four phases. The first phase includes the triangular shaped, 8.5-acre parcel between Buffalo Trail Road and the present Laurel Cemetery. Additional phases will include the acquisition and development of another 60-acres of state land, north of Laurel Airport Road.
According to Yellowstone County Commissioner Kennedy, the triangular-shaped first phase of the Veterans Cemetery will have enough space for 22,531 plots, enough for 300 burials a year for 75 years.
Funding for the cemetery will come from a $225,000 annual mill levy approved by county voters, donations from the area veterans council, county cemetery maintenance funds and anticipated federal funding of up to $1 million.
The cemetery will meet National Cemetery Standards including items such as wrought-iron fencing, illumination, monuments, flags and roads.
The project has been a cooperative effort of the City of Laurel, Yellowstone County, state and federal agencies. The cemetery has had the support of the United Veterans Council, a local umbrella organization made up of area veterans groups including the Laurel Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post and the Laurel American Legion Post and their auxiliary organizations.
"Yellowstone County has 17.5 percent of all of the state's veterans and when you add our surrounding counties, we have 25 percent of the state's veterans," Commissioner Kennedy observed earlier.
The project is expected to cost about $4 million, financed mostly through a permanent 1-mill levy increase on county taxpayers that passed in 2006.
During his remarks, Mayor Olson invited the governor and the other state officials to attend Laurel's Centennial Celebration in August.
Veterans, organizations, businesses and citizens may donate to the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery through several options. You can donate a tree for $300, a bench for $1,000, and granite bricks for $300. A corporate donation of $45,000 will build a restroom and warming room for Phase 1, while a $2,000 donation will help build a flag disposal area, and $3,000 will install flag poles and lighting.
Kennedy said that project organizers hope to have enough donations for "pavers" – engraved bricks memorializing veterans – to have an entire walkway by Dedication Day.