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Pennsylvania landowners have one week to sell property for 9/11 memorial

The Interior Department says that if six holdout families don't agree to deal, it will to use eminent domain to take the land where United Flight 93 crashed. The goal is to finish a memorial in 2011.

June 06, 2009|Kate Linthicum

The federal government on Friday set a deadline for Pennsylvania landowners who have refused to give up their property so that a memorial to United Airlines Flight 93 can be built.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told landowners that they have one week to reach sale agreements with the National Park Service before the agency exercises eminent domain to acquire the 500 remaining acres for the memorial, at the site where the hijacked plane crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

On Friday, a delegation that included Salazar and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) met with the property owners near Shanksville, a tiny rural town about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The park service, an agency of the Interior Department, has reached agreements to purchase nearly 1,000 acres from other landowners in the area, but it has failed to persuade the six families that own the rest of the land to sell.

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff blamed the impasse on "a miscommunication on both sides."

"I hope today has cleared the air," she said.

One obstacle is that some landowners don't think they've been offered enough money. Federal law prohibits the government from paying more than "fair market value."

The government wants the $58-million memorial to be completed by the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Flight 93 was traveling from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it was hijacked by terrorists, who planned to crash it in Washington, D.C.

Some of the plane's 40 passengers and crew fought back, and the plane crashed as they were trying to gain control of the cockpit.

More than a million people have paid their respects at a temporary memorial at the site, according to the park service.

In 2002, Congress passed the Flight 93 National Memorial Act to establish a memorial site, which will include a monument designed by Los Angeles architect Paul Murdoch. The project will be paid for by federal and state funds and $30 million in private donations.

Some members of the memorial group Families of Flight 93 attended Friday's meeting and later released a statement urging officials to meet the 2011 completion deadline.

Not everyone welcomes the project.

A woman who answered the phone at the country store in Shanksville, but who did not wish to be identified, said that many residents worry what the memorial will mean for local revenue, because government-owned land is not taxed.

"The schools are going to lose money because of that damn memorial," she said.

A spokeswoman for the park service said that when federal land is in the boundaries of a local government, the federal government typically makes payments in lieu of taxes.

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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