Slidell veterans cemetery to open in 2014

The recent heavy rainstorms that swept through southeast Louisiana temporarily stalled construction at the $8.4 million Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell.

A new road turned into muddy rivers. An abandoned pair of gloves sank into the wet soil. Construction equipment sat idle in the mucky mess.

“That’s been a problem,” interim state Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte said. “We really got an unusual amount of rain early on.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t get a tropical storm.”

The good news for veterans tracking the construction progress is that the cemetery is on track to open in February or March, despite the weather and another hiccup that increased costs by $109,432 to stabilize soil material.

Retired Col. Ken Kimberly, of Covington, drives out, periodically, to check on the construction of the cemetery, which will be adjacent to Camp Villere.

Kimberly said the cemetery is important to a lot of veterans because it will mean a shorter drive for their survivors.

“It’s a veterans’ cemetery that’s going to be closer to us in southeast Louisiana. The closest ones are in Biloxi and Baton Rouge, and Baton Rouge is filled up,” he said, referring to the national cemetery in Port Hudson.

Port Hudson can only accommodate cremated remains and possibly interments among family members in already used gravesites. The Chalmette National Cemetery has no available space.

The state has been applying for federal funds to create new burial grounds for veterans, their spouses and dependent children.

In 2007, the state opened a veterans’ cemetery in Keithville. Another cemetery opened its gates in Leesville last year. Yet another veterans’ cemetery is planned for northeast Louisiana.

Gov. Bobby Jindal broke ground in December for the Slidell cemetery that, in its initial phase, will have room for 2,579 preplaced crypts, 273 cremains gravesites and 480 funeral urns’ niches.

LaCerte said construction workers have moved a lot of earth, placed burial vaults and framed the administration building, maintenance building and a structure for memorial services. Irrigation and sodding still need to be done, he said.

The Slidell cemetery will offer a final resting place to some of the 100,000 veterans who live in southeast Louisiana.

“Not everyone wants to go to places like Arlington. That’s a long way for families to travel,” retired Col. Rob Maness, of Madisonville, said.

The cemetery came up during a recent legislative budget committee meeting at the State Capitol.

Financial changes were needed because of a problem that arose with the cemetery’s main roadway.

As LaCerte explains it, the roadway is an old gravel road on 21 acres that are part of the initial development.

A cross-sectional analysis made engineers uncomfortable and prompted the addition of structural fill for stabilization. State officials were able to cover the added costs from a contingency fund that was part of the original grant.

“We should stay on budget, unless more issues pop up,” LaCerte said.

Maness said the cemetery will serve a veterans’ population that stretches from Slidell to Hammond.

About six weeks ago, he drove to the construction site to see what had been done.

“It’s looking good,” Maness said.