May 07 2013
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem was confident going into Monday's vote in the House of Representative on her bill to transfer control of nine historic cemeteries in the Black Hills to their local communities.
Last year it passed the House 400-1. On Monday, the opposition doubled, but it still passed 390-2. It has not yet passed in the Senate.
Noem said it was an easy bill for lawmakers to support because it was "common-sense legislation" that turned back control and ownership to associations and communities that had been caring for the cemeteries for many years.
"This bill not only honors the folks that have been preserving these cemeteries for generations, but will actually help reduce liability and potential costs to the U.S. Forest Service," she said. "I look forward to this legislation moving through the Senate and becoming law.”
Last year, the Senate never managed to approve its version of Noem's legislation before its session ended. So Noem, R-S.D., began a do-over this session, introducing the bill again with similar legislation to follow by Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and John Thune, R-S.D.
"This is is something those local communities have been asking for since they came to see me as soon as I was in Congress," Noem said.
Historic cemeteries included in the legislation are Englewood, Galena, Hayward, Mountain Meadows, Roubaix, Nemo, Rockerville, Silver City and Cold Springs.
The cemeteries have long been managed by local associations or communities but have been owned by the U.S. Forest Service since the early 1900s. The cemeteries are operated by the caretaker groups under a special-use permit with the Forest Service, which issues the permits and inspects the properties.
There were also questions in the cases where additional plots were sold, which is technically selling government property. The transfer would settle that issue.
The legislation also allows for the transfer of up to two acres of adjacent Forest Service land to the communities or associations to provide additional space if needed.
The cemeteries will be going back where they belong in true ownership if the legislation wins Senate approval as expected, Noem said. "These cemeteries have a lot of unique significance to those communities," she said.