establishment at Pennhurst

By BETSY GILLILAND

WEST CHESTER - Democratic Commissioner Andrew Dinniman plans to recommend the commissioners adopt a resolution in support of establishing a national veterans' cemetery in East Vincent at the board's Tuesday meeting.

Namely, at the former Pennhurst State School and Hospital property.

"An infrastructure exists to serve this site," said Dinniman at the commissioners' Thursday meeting. "There is no opposition from anyone that I'm aware of."

Last fall, he received petitions with the signatures of about 450 residents of East Vincent and Spring City that favored establishing a veterans' cemetery at Pennhurst.

He also said East Vincent supervisors support the idea.

According to Dinniman, the residents said the 300-plus acres at Pennhurst, vacant for decades, should be converted to a veterans' cemetery, a park or farmland. However, he said, they believed "it would be of great assistance if Chester County passed a resolution in support of the site" as a national veterans' cemetery.

"It's a federal decision. But in any decision, the people have the right to have their say," said Dinniman.

In November, President Bush signed the National Cemetery Expansion Act of 2003, which called for the establishment of a veterans' cemetery in southeastern Pennsylvania within four years.

The act stipulated the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary should submit a report to Congress about establishing the cemetery not later than 120 days after the date of enactment.

Under the act, the report would include a schedule for establishing the cemetery and an estimate of the associated costs. The report also would include the amount of necessary advanced planning funds.

Pennsylvania legislators were instrumental in securing passage of the bill, which called for the establishment of six veterans cemeteries nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th, of Upper Uwchlan, sponsored the legislation in the House. U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-13th, of Montgomery County, co-sponsored the bill.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced the legislation in the Senate.

"I just want to put a little pressure on our representatives, all of whom are going to be running, by the way, to say this is what we want," said Dinniman.

Gerlach and Specter are running for re-election. Hoeffel is challenging Specter for his Senate seat.

"I'm concerned that the decision will be made without our knowledge," Dinniman said after the meeting. "Decisions are made in Washington based on who has power. I just want to get these guys to use their power for us."

About 10 sites in southeastern Pennsylvania are under consideration. Others include Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Embreeville State Hospital grounds in Chester County, Graterford State Correctional Institute and Norristown Farm Park in Montgomery County, and several privately owned sites in Bucks County.

Republican Commissioners Carol Aichele and Donald Mancini said they would like to review the legislation and to talk to East Vincent supervisors before agreeing to a resolution.

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