Beaufort News

Wilson proposes legislation to expand Beaufort National Cemetery

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is again proposing legislation to expand the Beaufort National Cemetery.

Wilson, a Republican whose district includes Beaufort County, filed a bill last month that would instruct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study the feasibility of purchasing 4.9 acres near the rear of the cemetery.

The proposal, HR 183, was referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, according to the Library of Congress.

The bill marks the second time Wilson has introduced legislation aimed at expanding the Civil War-era burial ground along Boundary Street.

Wilson sponsored a bill in 2008 that would have allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase 5 acres now occupied by the Lafayette Square apartment complex on Lafayette Street for about $3 million.

The proposal failed in committee, and the complex's owner pulled the property off the market, according to legislative records.

Neal Patel, a Wilson spokesman, said the congressman continues to fight to expand the cemetery to help keep it "one of the premier national cemeteries in the country."

"Mr. Wilson wants Beaufort National Cemetery ... to remain a viable option in the future for veterans and their families looking for a final resting place," Patel said. "For this reason, he believes it is necessary to acquire the adjacent land so it doesn't get sold and developed, and ultimately lost for any use for Beaufort National Cemetery."

The cemetery expansion hit a wrinkle in 2008 when Wilson put a one-year moratorium on earmark requests to his office.

The Veterans Cemetery Committee of Beaufort, a panel of retired military officials created to study cemetery expansion, went to Wilson in March 2008 to request $3.2 million be included in the 2009 federal budget to purchase the Lafayette Street parcel.

But Wilson rejected the proposal because of his earmark ban.

Wilson has said the moratorium was not a reflection of his feelings about the cemetery but was a response to the "wasteful" congressional earmark system.

The cemetery contains the graves of more than 19,000 service members and their spouses from every major American conflict and has enough burial space available for about 20 to 30 years, according to cemetery officials.