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Meeting to discuss buying Rio Rancho land for veterans cemetery

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 7/31/2022

Jul. 31—It's a growing problem for the National Cemetery Administration — finding room to bury the dead.

Officials associated with that federal entity are looking to create more burial land for military veterans in New Mexico, and they are eyeing a 300-plus-acre tract in Rio Rancho.

The State Land Office, which oversees the property, is planning to accept a bid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the property. The two agencies are hosting a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Rio Rancho to present information on the deal and take public comment.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said Friday that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been looking for years for land in New Mexico on which to create a new cemetery.

Though New Mexico has two national veterans cemeteries — one in Santa Fe and one in Fort Bayard — the Santa Fe site, which serves veterans in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas, is filling up quickly, she said.

"We're thrilled to use state trust land for this particular purpose," Garcia Richard said.

Les' A. Melnyk, spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration, wrote in an email Friday that the federal agency wants at least 200 acres "to ensure continued ability to serve Veterans in the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area into the future."

He said the cemetery administration projects it will run out of in-ground cremains and casket burial gravesites at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in 2030. The administration expects to run out of columbaria niches there in 2035.

Melnyk said the Rio Rancho site is one of several properties federal officials are looking at in the state.

The proposed location sits southwest of U.S. 550 between the Enchanted Hills subdivision and the northwest loop road, according to a city of Rio Rancho memorandum on the project.

Garcia Richard said officials from her office and the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on hand Tuesday to "walk through the process" of how the land will be used and sold.

She said the VA will have to bid in a public auction to acquire the land, a process that will take place at least 10 weeks after Tuesday's meeting.

The minimum bid is

$2.359 million, Joey Keefe, spokesman for the State Land Office, said Friday.

Garcia Richard said the open bidding process will allow other entities or people to bid for the land, but she did not think anyone would do that as it would stymie plans to build a veterans cemetery there.Keefe said the office is not aware of interest in the land from anyone else.

New Mexico also has several state-run veteran cemeteries, including one that recently opened in Angel Fire. The state is home to more than 151,000 military veterans, according to a 2021 New Mexico Department of Veterans Services report.


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