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March 27, 2014

Judge sets value of Flight 93 crash site

— A federal judge agreed with a federally appointed commission’s $1.5 million appraisal of Flight 93’s ground zero – a swath of Shanksville area strip mine land-turned sacred ground.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose’s ruling comes after years of legal debate over what is now the Flight 93 National Memorial land and its value.

The land’s former owner, Michael Svonavec, argued the 275-acre property was worth $23 million. He has maintained he had plans to establish a memorial and museum on the land before the government used eminent domain to take control of the site.

The decision sets the value of the land at nearly $1 million more than the $611,000 Svonavec was paid in 2009 after negotiations between the two sides failed. But it is also far below the $23 million he argued it was worth.

In agreeing with the commission, Ambrose rejected arguments by both parties that were filed in recent months, arguing different values, The Associated Press reported.

The three-person commission was appointed to determine the site’s fair market value at the time the government took it – before its development into a permanent memorial site. The commission used figures and estimates to determine the then-minimally developed site would draw about 136,000 people annually who were willing to pay a $3 admission fee.

Considering that revenue, minus development costs and operating expenses, the commission determined someone on the open market would have been willing to pay about $1,535,000 for it.

Ambrose agreed.

It is not known whether Svonavec will  appeal the ruling. The Somerset area man and his attorney, Vincent J. Barbera, did not return calls for comment Thursday.

The permanent memorial site remains a work in progress, but lured 317,926 visitors in 2012 alone, according to the National Park Service, which operates and maintains the site.

Its visitors center is scheduled for completion next year.

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him at www.twitter. com/tddavidhurst

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