January 15, 2017

Judge Blocks Group's Request to Stop VA Project At Crown Hill

Protestors of the VA's development plans at Crown Hill gathered in November, 2016.   - WFYI News/Leigh DeNoon

Protestors of the VA's development plans at Crown Hill gathered in November, 2016.

WFYI News/Leigh DeNoon

INDIANAPOLIS - A federal judge has denied a request by an environmental group to stop a U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs project at Crown Hill Cemetery.

In her ruling, Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana wrote that the Indiana Forest Alliance’s overstated the impact of the project on a 15-acre parcel in the cemetery’s North Woods.

The group argued that the VA’s environmental impact assessment was flawed, and had asked that the project not go forward until a court could review it. Magnus-Stinson rejected that argument.

Jeff Stant, the executive director of the Forest Alliance, said his group will appeal the ruling to the 7th Circuit U.S. District Court in Chicago.

“We do not believe that the VA complied with the spirit or the letter of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” Stant said in a statement.

Unless the circuit court intervenes, Magnus-Stinson’s ruling appears to clear the way for the VA to develop a columbarium, which will house the cremated remains of military veterans. The VA bought the 15-acre parcel from Crown Hill Cemetery, Inc. in 2015.

The North Woods at Crown Hill is one of the few remaining pre-settlement, old-growth areas in Indiana, according to a 2006 assessment by an ecologist with the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves.

The Indiana Forest Alliance argued that given the site’s biological and cultural value, the VA should look for alternative site for the columbarium.

There will be a public candlelight vigil for the forest Monday, January 16 at the Crown Hill North Woods from 4 to 5 p.m.

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