NewsLocal News / December 7, 2016

Forest Alliance Sues Veterans Affairs In Attempt To Save Old Forest

Forest Alliance Sues Veterans Affairs In Attempt To Save Old Forest

Arborists surveyed the Crown Hill site in October and identified 36 different tree species, some more than 16 feet around.

Courtesy of Indiana Forest Alliance

The Indiana Forest Alliance Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to save 14.75 acres of old forest in Indianapolis.

It's likely to be the last chance the nonprofit will have to win a fight going on since the VA announced it purchased the land in September.

The VA bought the land in Crown Hill Cemetery's North Woods, a forest said to be older than the founding of the United States, for $810,000. It plans to use it to build a columbarium - a structure that holds urns.

Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant says the VA’s decision did not go through the proper democratic process.

Stant says VA officials were unwavering when they received suggestions about alternative sites, saying they offered only to spare a handful of trees.

“If that’s listening to the public, that’s a joke. That’s an arrogant slap in the face. And maybe what they need is litigation in federal district court,” Stant says.

The lawsuit claims VA administration violated four key parts of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Those alleged violations are:

  1. Issuing a "Finding of No Significant Impact" for a project that will indeed have a significant environmental impact.
  2. Failing to look at alternatives for the project as required by NEPA.
  3. Not meeting mandatory requirements to inform the public, including holding a public hearing on their environmental documents.
  4. Prejudicing the decision to build at the site prior to the completion of the required environmental reviews that were supposed to be used to inform the decision.

The VA did hold a public hearing in late September, but Stant says on top of ignoring public concerns the VA also moved ahead with plans to build the monument before the public hearing time period was completed.

There is also still a deal on offer from the Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust to buy the land back from the VA, for a negotiable amount. The Trust says if that deal happens it would preserve the land and open it for recreation.

The Forest Alliance says tree clearing could begin before the end of December.

VA officials have not responded to requests for comment.

This story will be updated.

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