Wilson vows to fight for cemetery expansion despite redistricting

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 21, 2012 

— Congress rejected his two previous attempts to expand Beaufort National Cemetery, but US Rep. Joe Wilson says he will continue to fight for the Civil War-era burial ground even after he no longer represents Beaufort County.

Wilson, a Republican from Springdale, will see his 11-year tenure as the county’s member of the US House end next month without passage of a bill to expand the cemetery, which he has cited as a legislative priority in recent years.

The county was taken out of Wilson’s district with redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, and most of it was placed in the 1st District, which Tim Scott has represented since 2010.

Wilson sponsored two bills in the past three years to expanded the cemetery. The most recent, proposed last year, would have ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to study buying 4.9 acres near the back of the cemetery. The other bill, introduced in 2009, called for the VA to purchase five acres now occupied by Lafayette Square apartments for about $3 million.

Neither proposal made it to the House floor for a vote or debate, according to congressional records.

Before sponsoring those bills, Wilson rejected a March 2008 proposal by the Veterans Cemetery Committee of Beaufort, a panel of retired military officials created to study cemetery expansion, which asked that $3.2 million be included in the 2009 federal budget to purchase the Lafayette Street parcel.

Wilson rejected the proposal because of a self-imposed ban on congressional earmarks.

A Wilson spokeswoman declined to say whether Wilson regrets rejecting the group’s request but said he plans to continue fighting for cemetery expansion.

“(He) is proud of the success made with the Beaufort National Cemetery ... (which) he has fought to promote ... for the past 11 years,” Caroline Delleney said in an email. “The congressman has served as an advocate and arranged for key official visits to the site, providing awareness and garnering support for the project.”

The cemetery contains the graves of more than 19,000 service members and their spouses from every major American conflict. It has enough burial space for another 20 to 30 years, according to cemetery officials.

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