Roswell’s request for a federally designated veterans’ cemetery was denied, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday.
The four cities selected for the first phase of the new state program to provide veterans’ cemeteries for rural communities were Angel Fire, Carlsbad, Fort Stanton and Gallup.
The Chaves County Veterans’ Cemetery Board submitted an application to the state in December, in an effort to be included in the governor’s new regional veterans’ cemetery program.
Col. Ron McKay, board member of the Chaves County Veterans’ Cemetery Board, said the governor’s decision was a letdown.
“The main thing we wanted was the designation,” McKay said. “That’s what bothers me. It’s a big letdown for the people here. I don’t understand it — after all the conversations we’ve had with her and the comments they had said that we were one at the top of the list.”
Those working on the Gen. Douglas L. McBride-Roswell Veterans’ Cemetery will regroup and see about what to do next, he said.
“We’re going to have to maybe look at the federal (designation) now,” McKay said.
To fully build the 5-acre cemetery, the group will need $1.5 million, McKay said.
If the cemetery had been included in the state program, it would have received $150,000.
Since December, the city of Roswell was allocated $250,000 in state capital outlay funds for the veterans’ cemetery by the Legislature this year. The city also provided $75,000 to jump start work on a 2-acre section at the site in December.
The city built a cul-de-sac and has started work on irrigation. Two walls are expected to be delivered that will hold the remains of veterans. The cemetery board expects to hold a grand opening July 4.
Once federally designated as an official veterans’ cemetery, the nonprofit organization would receive $300 per burial to help cover costs and allow for other official work at the site. But, the money was not as important as gaining the official status, McKay said.
“We just want the designation, the money is secondary,” McKay said. “It would help to get those federal funds for burying people too. We’re not letting up on it.”
In July, Martinez announced the development of a strategic plan to bring veterans’ cemeteries closer to New Mexico’s veterans and their families.
Ray Seva, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services, said Martinez reviewed all applications, including those submitted by Roswell and Hobbs.
“They kind of based their selection on which four would serve a wider selection of veterans,” Seva said. “This was just the initial launch. We’re certainly going to try to add more in the coming years. We just started with four. Just because one city did not make the cut certainly did not mean it is off the list forever.”
The governor selected Fort Stanton over Roswell because it was located between Roswell and Alamogordo, Seva said.
“We had to start somewhere,” Seva said.