Arlington National Cemetery expansion plans threaten old trees

A hotly-debated plan to add more burial spaces at Arlington National Cemetery moved another step closer Saturday, but environmentalists are worried about the impact the expansion will have on trees.

“We owe them a place where they can have eternal rest,” says Raymond Houck, a U.S. Army veteran.

The cemetery spans 624 acres of sacred ground with 400,000 graves.

“Every year they find this to be a special and moving place and I want to keep that for everybody,” says Carol Harvey of Arlington.

But this cemetery of honor has a big problem.

“We will run out of in-ground burial space by 2025,” says Col. Tori Bruzesi, an engineer at the cemetery.

With up to 30 funerals each day, Arlington is running out of room.

“We have to do what’s right for the mission of Arlington National Cemetery, for what the land was transferred for,” says Col. Bruzesi.

The $84 million Millenium Project would make room for 30,000 more graves in the northwest section of the cemetery.

“It didn’t make much sense 150 years ago, it doesn’t make much sense now to do it,” says Caroline Haynes of the Urban Forestry Commission.

Environmentalists who toured the cemetery Saturday are angry about the army’s plan to remove 800 trees and replant 600 others on the 30-acre site.

“You can’t replace this unique forest that’s so important for water quality, for habitat, for beauty,” says Joan Maloof, the founder of the Old Growth Forest Network.

The army says its original plan was to remove every tree.

Supporters note this is a regrowth area, completely cleared during the Civil War era.

“They’re taking great pains to preserve as many of the trees that they have here and also to restore a stream,” says Houck.

“It’s a balancing act of the environment, but the space is supposed to be used for burial and grave use,” says Col. Bruzesi.

Opponents say once the tree-cutting begins, this area will never be the same.

“Once we take the trees down the area is changed forever,” says Harvey.