Construction could begin by next spring on a new national cemetery in Genesee County

05.29.17 | Bob Price

By this time in 2019, Rochester-area military veterans and their families will have a new, closer option for their final resting place.

Construction is slated to start sometime early next year on the Western New York National Cemetery, a 132-acre burial ground planned for Pembroke, Genesee County.

Michael Carcanague, district engineer with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs North Atlantic District, said final agreements for an easement to relocate a gas main on one of three parcels of land being combined to create the cemetery are pending. Once those contracts are inked, the project will go out for bids, likely in June.

"Then we're looking at having bids in hand by September or October and optimistically looking at breaking ground in spring of 2018, because winters come early in western New York," he said.

That is good news for area veterans, said Brian Mitchell, commander of the Monroe County American Legion. Currently, the closest option for veterans seeking to be buried in a national cemetery is Bath National Cemetery, about 80 miles away from Rochester and close to capacity.

"All veterans are entitled to be buried in a national cemetery and to have one closer would be very helpful," said Mitchell, who served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s. "I myself am planning to go there when my time comes."

Pembroke is about 48 miles west of downtown Rochester if traveling along the Thruway, and the cemetery site is just north of the Pembroke exit, near the corner of Route 77 and Indian Falls Road.

The first phase of construction at the site will develop about 70 acres and provide for approximately 10 years' worth of interment capacity, including both casketed and cremated remains, according to the National Cemetery Administration.

Plans call for a front entrance, administration building, maintenance building, flagpole assembly area, memorial walkway, committal shelters, restrooms and a public information center with an electronic gravesite locator.

Ultimately, the cemetery is expected to provide burial for about 96,000 veterans and family members living in western New York.

Design and master plan work for the Western New York National Cemetery is being done by The LA Group, a landscape architecture and engineering firm based in Saratoga Springs.

Joseph G. Sporko, managing principal of the organization, said his firm has developed a specialty in designing national cemeteries. As national shrines, he said, such sites should evoke emotions of reverence, honor and pride.

"These are very special places and everything you do should be focused on the veterans, and everything should say 'honor, dignity and permanence,'" he said. "Those three words sum it up, these are sites that will be there forever and be maintained forever."

About $36 million in funding for the project was provided in the 2017 federal budget.

The National Cemetery Administration maintains 135 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier's lots and monument sites.

The association says there are currently more than 3 million gravesites being maintained within its facilities, and there were more than 130,000 interments in fiscal year 2015 alone. Additionally, more than 350,000 headstones and medallions were installed during that year.

One of the goals of the NCA is to reach 95 percent of veterans so they have a burial option within 75 miles of where they live.

Burial in national cemeteries is open to service members who die while on active duty, retired military and certain other veterans and family members.