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Update: Deal Seems to Clear The Way For Construction of the Flight 93 Memorial


Flags flutter at the temporary Flight 93 Memorial in this September 2006 photo by Jeff Kubina via Fickr. In July 2007 the NPS had to move the temporary memorial to a new site.

Land acquisition snags, private fund-raising shortfalls, and related problems long have plagued efforts to build the Flight 93 Memorial. But agreement finally has been reached between all parties on a deal that seems to clear the way for the project to move forward.

The Flight 93 Memorial long has been a work in progress that has involved some very complicated legal, political, financial, and socio-cultural facets. Not surprisingly, various complications have forced repeated changes in the project schedule

But some of those complications vanished this past Saturday as the National Park Service, the landowner, and the Families of Flight 93 reached an understanding that would allow the Park Service to acquire 274 acres near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. With that agreement in hand, it shouldn't be long before the initial construction phase, which is to center on the "Sacred Ground" crash site at the memorial’s core, gets under way. There has been a reasonable expectation that at least this much of the project could be completed by the tenth anniversary of the crash in 2011.

In addition to the core Sacred Ground feature, current plans call for the construction of a visitor center, a main bowl area, a wind chimes tower, a "healing wetlands" area, and many other elements whose completion dates are yet to be determined.

Land acquisition, a vital component of the memorial project, long has been a major stumbling block to this memorial. Prior to this past Saturday's announcement, important progress had been made, including the recent addition of a key 57-acre tract.

Under the agreement reached Saturday, a court will decide the fair value of the land where Flight 93 actually crashed. The property currently is owned by Svonavec, Inc., which operates a quarry. With that agreement, the Park Service will receive access to the land and can commence final planning and actual construction of the memorial.

Back in 2005, the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force announced plans for a memorial that would consist of a two-square mile (1,300-acre) landscaped park incorporating the crash site. The entire tract would have to be acquired from private owners at a projected cost of $10 million.

When Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001, the actual site of the crash (which has come to be called the Sacred Ground) was on a 273-acre tract of land owned by a local businessman named Mike Svonavec. Because the memorial was quite naturally designed with the Sacred Ground as its core feature, the acquisition of Mr. Svonavec’s land was an essential goal.

Over the years, the Families of Flight 93 (Flight Families) organization has used donated funds to acquire various parcels of land, including a 711-acre parcel purchased from PBS Coals Inc. for $2.32 million, a 3-acre residential parcel that cost $112,000, and a 55.4 acre tract that sold for $125,000. All of this property was situated within the authorized boundaries of the memorial, and all of it was donated to the NPS.

It is no small matter that the property already acquired provides plenty of room for the memorial’s ancillary structures and activities.

Holding up acquisition of the final, key parcel of land were disputes over its worth. In February 2006 the NPS told Mr. Svonavec that the agency had appraised his land’s value at $250,000 – about $915 an acre. In 2007, the Flight 93 Families upped the ante, offering Svonavec $550,000 plus another $200,000 for his expenses. Neither offer was acceptable.

Leading up to Saturday's agreement, Mr. Svonavec had denied rumors that he might be holding out for perhaps as much as $10 million. He has also demanded to see three appraisals (one conducted by the NPS and two conducted by independent contractors) that the agency had refused to make public. Determined to leave no stone unturned, the Families of Flight 93 group even sent a letter to President Bush last month requesting that he seize the Svonavec tract by executive order.

As if land acquisition problems were not enough, raising the funds to pay for the memorial has also proven more problematic than expected. On the assumption that the final price tag for the memorial would be about $58 million, a target of $30 million was established for private fund-raising. Sad to say, the fund-raising campaign has not met its interim goals and is not on pace to meet its final target. That’s a moving final target, too, since the cost projections may very well prove to be overly optimistic.

Postscript: For details about the memorial design, visit this site. For an especially poignant narrative by the architect, see this site.


Well, Warren Z, yours is a brave comment. But let me both correct a few inaccuracies, and agree with a few of your points.

First, the effort to create a National Park Service Unit at the Flight 93 crash site had NEXT TO NO BUSH ADMINISTRATION involvement. It was partially driven by circumstances, and partly by the local Member of Congress, and partly by the National Park Service. The circumstances were that the site was unprotected, in a small Township in Pennsylvania with practically no resources to care for the site. The FBI and other federal agencies at first had control over the site, as a crash and terrorism crime site. They were collecting evidence, but they would not be there for long, because they were not authorized to protect the site, beyond the period of time they needed for their investigation. After they left, the site would be open to any of the curious or those who might want to remove objects or mementos, shall we say. This is too gruesome for me to go into.

This was further complicated because the “site” was owned by multiple land owners, making it much more difficult to protect the site, compared to what could have happened if one large landowner with sufficient resources protected the site from relic hunters.

The National Park Service was already alert to the kinds of historical issues that might confront a nationally electrifying site, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and the OK City Bombing site. Particularly in the Northeast Region of the NPS, which had at that moment a particularly bold and forward-looking Regional Director, several NPS staff were already thinking about the experience of the Vietnam Memorial and the items left at the site by people (people of all sorts, not just family of the dead trying to "own" the site). Are these items nationally significant, and should some, or all of them be saved? Would they be significant to future generations? In leaving these behind, would the donors object if their objects were periodically gathered? After all, new items were arriving all the time, and some items of organic materials (flowers) would need to be removed. Some, like notes and pictures, would quickly decay or blow away. Quickly such sites look like dumps if not tended. What is the appropriate way?

The other issue confronting the NPS, or at least was an issue raised by this Regional Director to her staff and nearby park managers, was the question (one you, Warren Z, also refer to) related to how to evaluate the "historical" significance of a site of immediately contemporary history. The Oklahoma City site, which had confusing twists and turns due to the inexperience of the second superintendent and the OK Senator who sponsored that site, already revealed a local interest group, the survivors and local citizens, who themselves determined what the "story" was, and was not. What was the national context of an interpretive story in such a case? WAS it national? Did the site represent a major point in American history? How could you say it was THE most important example of domestic terrorism, right after it happened? Would this be a turning point in Am History, or the classic example of a constant theme of Am History while that history was still unfolding? Might there not be entirely different, perhaps more horrific, examples that might make OK City an uncharacteristic site, an aberration?

On the other hand, sites like Gettysburg, prior to being turned over to the NPS, were protected as cemeteries by the Army. No such protection seemed to be available for the Flight 93 site, to provide the time [say, 50 years or so] to reflect on whether the site should be protected.

There was a lot more to this, and a lot of meetings and calls from many people on multiple sides. But in the end, it was the opinion of many professionals that the Flight 93 site had a special character that would distinguish it from other “victim” sites. It represented the efforts of CITIZENS to defend their country against attack. Flight 93 apparently was sent to crash into either the White House or the Capitol Building. On the issue of an attack on America, such as had been experienced at Ft. McHenry or Pearl Harbor, the event was seen as significant, but concerns remained that if or as the war on terror continued, Flight 93 might not be the last of it, or the worst of it, or the archetype of it.

But, taken together, considering what was thought to be known of the significance of the site, and what was understood at that time to be the real risk of loss or damage to the site seemed to justify its significance as a park. There was an awareness of the risk of a bad precedent by permitting other new sites into the System that were undeserving, and concern that generally it is a very bad idea to consider de-authorizing a national park site in the future.

The third force behind the creation of a park at Flight 93 was not the Bush Administration at all, but Congressman John Murtha. Murtha has a keen sense of American military history and significance, has demonstrated greater than normal efforts in assisting his constituents, and at that time had tremendous credibility with MANY [certainly not all] other Members of Congress. I believe Murtha was troubled by potential desecrations of a sacred site, and convinced of the significance of the sacrifice of the passengers. Unlike many Members of Congress who are great only at bringing pork into their district, Murtha had done a lot for the parks even outside of Pennsylvania, and was very familiar with the top leadership of the Park Service. For him, a national park was a natural. He approached the NPS originally to protect the site, but the Northeast Region national park service law enforcement specialists, in consultation with the Washington Office leadership, believed that park service support without an Act of Congress was too much of a stretch, and would undermine important, existing responsibilities. Murtha was able to appropriate short term funding to permit the local communities to hire a security service until the Congress could consider park status.

On the issue of money, it is not true that the full cost of the Memorial will be paid by the National Park Service. A real effort is underway to raise much if not all the funding; we will see if the current economic downturn will undermine that fundraising campaign, either at Flight 93, or at the World Trade Center.

-- HOWEVER, I think Warren Z is RIGHT to question an elaborate memorial. In view of the danger of the survivors and local interests trying to “own” the interpretive story, as was allowed to happen at Oklahoma City, perhaps we can wait a generation to decide what kind of monument to build, if any, on this site. Would Gettysburg be different today if no monuments had been built by the generation alive during, or who participated in, the Battle of Gettysburg? Would it be better or worse?

But I also think the Flight 93 site is a completely evocative landscape, and needs no massive interpretation or Memorial to convey the significance of what happened there. I worry the more the park service builds, the more it will degrade the significance of the site. Why not wait, and decide later?

But, I think protecting the land, with maintenance and minimal interpretive development, is a very good idea, despite the very fine traditional rule of waiting 50 years, or for the death of those personally affected.

This would be a good balance between the good sense of the traditional judgment, and the special character and need of the Flight 93 site, where the citizen-passengers directly confronted those who were intending to attack the government of the United States.

Thanks for the schooling, d-2.
Believe it or not, I was aware of just about all of the justifications you elaborate on.

Let me just say that I too am all for protecting the site. That doesn't mean the NPS needs to do it, nor does the NPS necessarily need to be involved in the storytelling. Why not have some of our military forces, such as the National Guard, on duty to protect the land during ongoing investigation and collection of items? Oh that's right, they're already stretched way too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, looking for weapons of mass destruction.


I will argue two of your points, d-2.

No Federal Agency, not even the many levels of management within the NPS, operates independent of influence from the sitting President's administration, by share fact of the matter that those agencies are run by political appointees of the President. Trust me on that one.
I don't think my comment implies direct involvement from President Bush himself, but that is how you choose to interpret my comments.
I doubt that Congressman Murtha would have had as much support to make this an NPS site if the incident in his district hadn't been part of a larger coordinated attack that could be manipulated by the Bush Administration, especially in light of the process and players surrounding the memorial in OKC, but we'll just have to agree to disagree on that point.

"...and with the full attention and funding of the Federal government."
I misspoke. I meant to say "...and with the full attention and support of the Federal Government." I will correct this in my original comment.
That said, it being a NPS site, who else but the Federal government will be paying for staffing, developing the interpretive program, etc. unless the Families of Flight 93 organization gets involved in a role other than funding the construction.

I agree that the "ownership" of the OKC story by the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum presents some object lessons for all concerned with development of the Flight 93 site, especially concerning questions of taste. (Example: one can purchase bottled water with the OCNMM's logo serving as a label. BOTTLED WATER! How in any way does an empty plastic bottle, with the organization's LOGO on it, honor the victims??)
But that type of interpretive outsourcing has become very popular during the last 8 years.
We agree that protection of the site's integrity is very important. But you can't expect that the participation of the NPS will exclude third party agendas, not in the current managerial environment.

I suspect this opinion will receive some feedback, but here goes.

If the horrors of 9/11 were not to be later exploited by the Bush Administration in service to a larger political agenda already in place prior to September 11, 2001, I doubt we would have seen such a rush to get the Flight 93 Memorial established and designed, let alone built.
As for Mr. Svonavec, the Families of Flight 93 are relatively lucky; they don't have to contend with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, or Silverstein Properties, all players with their own agendas, in getting the World Trade Center site rebuilt with a proper memorial included.

Tragedies like Flight 93 are horrific. No one questions that. But what happened to the process of personal grief and reflection? Is the grief of the survivor families only of value if a $58 million memorial is constructed post haste?

In today's culture, victim survivor groups express a very distasteful sense of entitlement when demanding memorials be erected as quickly as possible, as lavishly as possible, and with the full attention and support of the Federal government. Mr. Svonavec's reasons for holding onto his land are debatable certainly, but requesting that President Bush seize the land by executive order? A ridiculous request to say the least, although I personally find it surprising that President Bush did not comply with the demand. Perhaps if he were able to run for re-election he would have.

Have some patience for the process, folks. Flight 93 is not the only tragedy that has befallen our nation, or our world for that matter. In light of today's holiday, I would suggest putting our energies behind the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; he was assassinated 40 years ago and we still haven't gotten that memorial built.

My initial comment starting with the sentence "I suspect this opinion..." was originally first in the comment thread, but I altered it's position when I made a clarification. Sorry for the confusion!

Geez, there still seems to be some residual BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) out there.
I have to ask y'all...who are you going to hate tomorrow? Will you hate Obama if he carries on some of Bush's policies?
Not a whole lotta tolerance out there....


There's a difference between tolerance and criticism.

Warren Z --

Although your instinct to suspect the bias and incompetence of the Bush Administration is a good place to start, and it seems to me Gerald must not have been living on this planet the last several years, let me say nonetheless that you really do have it wrong, even in your clarification of the Bush ADMINISTRATION and the Fl 93 action.

The people IN THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE who pushed this park, PUSHED IT PAST, and in effect, subverted the Bush Administration. Primarily, the people working for and inspired by Secretary Norton, who was, as you imply, much more negative on parks and buying land than the President Himself. (not that he deserves any praise)

Norton and OMB had issued an edict to prevent ANY new national park units, and the people in the NPS who pushed and wove this park, and several other parks, through the Congress did so in a conscious strategy to tie up the objections of the Bush people, and use the public concerns and belief in Fl. 93 AGAINST the Bush Administration's anti-new-park-bias.

Anyway, that is how it was. It was known that any park bill that could actually get to the President in this Republican Congress would actually get signed, especially if the President's own constituency had been captured to support this pro-park effort.

That is how it really was. Bush was easier than Norton; Norton was a Cheney clone. She and the NPS Director appointed by by Bush-Norton were dumped right about the time Pres. Bush had realized he could not completely trust the Vice President to keep him out of trouble.

That's a very thorough clarification, d-2. Were you part of that process?

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