Since 2017, officials have worked to bring a new National Veterans Cemetery to Sandoval County. In March, that goal came to an end with Veteran’s Affairs announcing it is buying a parcel of land south of Double Eagle Airport in Bernalillo County for $2.8 million and will spend another $41 building out the facility.
At the Aug. 9 Sandoval County Commission meeting, County Financial Advisor Rob Burpo and Real Property Manager Amy Griffin presented a timeline of the work that was done to bring the cemetery to Sandoval County.
In 2017, Sandoval County answered a solicitation for a location of the new National Cemetery. Later that year, the county received notification that the land parcel it submitted was not a finalist.
In 2019, a new solicitation was issued for the same project, and Sandoval County submitted a new proposal for the VA solicitation for a 340-acre site in northwest Rio Rancho available on state land for the state’s third national military cemetery.
In 2020, the county was notified that the proposal and location the county submitted was a finalist and a VA team visited the site for tour along with State Land Office officials. Later that year, negotiations between the New Mexico State Land Office and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs began.
Negotiations were ongoing since, with a public meeting held by SLO for the sale of the Rio Rancho property on Aug. 2, 2022.
“VA officials attended and were excited about the project,” Griffin said.
In October 2022, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs told the county it was not going to bid on the State Land parcel in Rio Rancho.
“This is the last formal conversation we had with the VA: on October 20,” Burpo said. “We got zero communication; it’s been system crickets ever since.”
On March 29, the VA announced it is buying the parcel of land south of Double Eagle Airport.
“I kind of felt like we were just led to believe we’re going to the prom with a certain person, and they just dumped us at the very end,” District 2 Commissioner Jay Block said during the May 10 commission meeting. “It was not the state of New Mexico. It was not the land commissioner that screwed us over.”
Block, a retired Air Force officer, asked for the timeline to be on the Aug. 9 meeting agenda to thank county employees for their hard work on the project and to bring awareness to the VA’s actions.
“I’ve been approached by many veterans excited about this new cemetery that was going to be done in Sandoval County,” Block said. “This VA under the past two successive administrations has been atrocious, from what it did to Sandoval County. I wanted to make sure that the public was aware of what it did. So you veterans out there, write a note to our land office and say thank you. And please send a note to our congressional delegation, all five of them, complaining about the VA. What they did to us was wrong, completely unacceptable. They lied to us and led us on and their communication, like Mr. Burpo said, was just awful. So, I’m pretty upset about it as a retired veteran. And I know a lot of people are very upset about it. And I wanted to make sure the public understood what we were doing with the past five years to get that cemetery here.”