Despite plea from veteran groups, project still planned at Fargo National Cemetery
National Cemetery Administration plans restroom, wind wall and storage building, but area veterans think project is a waste of money as they work on funding for a large, indoor gathering facility.
FARGO — Despite objections from a group of Fargo area veterans, a project at the Fargo National Cemetery will proceed this summer.
Jason Hicks, who is a leader in the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard, said a group of area veterans met late last month and decided to file a formal complaint regarding "an outhouse" planned for the cemetery.
He said that the request "fell on deaf ears" with officials from the National Cemetery Administration, who is leading the effort in establishing more rural cemeteries for veterans.
The $250,000 summer project involves building a vault-style restroom at the cemetery as well as a wind wall and storage building.
Les Melnyk, a chief public affairs spokesman for the cemetery division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement Friday, July 8, that "we are not constructing an outhouse."
"Calling this restroom an outhouse is misleading and inaccurate," he wrote.
"The vault-style restroom will be a permanent enclosed structure that complements the design of the cemetery unlike portable toilets or other temporary structures which are not only unsanitary but also detract from the site's overall appearance," he added.
Hicks, however, said it was a "colossal waste of taxpayer money and also not proper for a national cemetery."
Hicks' group is in the midst of a major fundraising drive to build a gathering center adjacent to the cemetery with a chapel, indoor restrooms, storage, a meeting and gathering room and a proposed Native American veteran ceremonial area next to the structure.
Thus, the veterans believe in what they hope will be a building project starting next year that will solve the need for restrooms and shelter concerns.
Their project received a big boost last month when the nonprofit honor guard group received donations of more than $380,000, including an anonymous donation of $250,000 and $100,000 from the North Dakota Masons organization, raising the gift total to $730,000.
The goal is to reach between $2 and $2.5 million.
Melnyk said they are well aware of the veteran group's proposed building project and says he realizes the cemetery has "become a part of the Fargo community in the nearly three years since it has opened."
In defending this summer's work, Melnyk said the vault restroom will contain a waterless, non-flush toilet that stores waste in a large airtight underground vault.
"This vault will be emptied and cleaned on a regular schedule. Vault-style restrooms are versatile because they can be installed in environmentally sensitive areas where plumbing is not readily accessible," he wrote.
Hicks, though, said the restroom would have no electricity or heat source.
"Imagine what December through April will be like," he said, adding the hot, humid summers are no better.
Hicks said he's unsure who's pushing the plan for this summer's work, and that the NCA officials told them it was too late to stop it. "When our building is complete, the stupidity/obscurity of this plan will really show through."