HILTON HEAD, S.C. — A committee of local veterans is raising money to expand Beaufort National Cemetery because it is filling up faster than expected.
The Veterans Cemetery Committee of Beaufort has formed the Beaufort National Cemetery Expansion Fund to help buy 5 acres near the cemetery's northwest corner.
Treasurer Tom Latendresse said the committee, which helped the cemetery expand in 2003, was revived recently to address possible space problems in the cemetery, which is between Lafayette and Rodgers streets along Boundary Street.
A 15-acre expansion negotiated by the previous veterans committee was expected to last into 2030, Latendresse said. However, almost half of that space already has been used, he said.
Latendresse said the cemetery handles about 400 burials a year, but that rate could increase as Korean War and Vietnam War veterans continue to age and Beaufort's veteran population rises.
The acquisition of the new 5-acre parcel — now occupied by the aging Lafayette Square apartment complex on Phillips Street — would create enough room for burials until 2050, he said.
Latendresse said the five acres the committee hopes to acquire represents the last available land adjacent to the cemetery. After that, it's anyone's guess as to how it would be expanded, he said.
Latendresse was part of the first veterans committee, led by retired U.S. Army Col. Jimmie Leach and retired Maj. Gen. William Cobb. Then, the cemetery was at risk of being filled by 2008.
Leach and the committee helped negotiate the transfer of 10 acres to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2003, space that opened from the closing of the Beaufort National Guard Armory. The remaining 5 acres were purchased from a private owner and donated to the cemetery. That owner, Charles Welsh, also owns the 5 acres the new committee is trying to purchase, Latendresse said.
Attempts to reach Welsh for comment were unsuccessful.
An exact donation goal has not been established yet, as negotiations between the land owner and the committee are still in the early stages, he said. Welsh's asking price for the property during negotiations in 2008 was $3.65 million, but a moratorium on earmark requests from U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson scuttled those plans. The property was appraised at $1.26 million in 2013, according to Beaufort County property records.
Donations to the fund would cover the purchase price of the property but not the demolition of buildings on the parcel. That responsibility would fall to the Department of Veterans Affairs after the land is transferred to it, Latendresse said.