The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 1, 2009

Gov’t files eminent domain papers

$611,000 offered for Flight 93 land

SHANKSVILLE — The federal government is offering $611,000 – about $2,215 per acre – for the core 276-acre tract at the Flight 93 site. The property includes the impact zone.

Federal attorneys in Pittsburgh filed papers Tuesday to take the land by eminent domain.

U.S. District Court Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown is expected to approve within days the government’s claim transferring the Svonavec property to the government.

But the sales price likely will remain unresolved for months, if not years.

Svonavec Inc. and its president, Mike Svonavec, have allowed the government on the land all year to plan for the Flight 93 National Memorial. Yet they’ve never come to terms on price.

“We knew that that was coming,’’ Svonavec said of the condemnation filing. “But honestly, we’re not happy about it. We’ll be spending the next however-many years in court fighting 50 federal attorneys.’’

Still, Svonavec acknowledged, “It is the way we (landowners and the government) agreed to proceed.’’

He wouldn’t say what he felt a fair price for the land would be.

“We probably have half that ($611,000) amount in costs, providing security and everything,’’ Svonavec said.

Svonavec Inc. provided security at the Flight 93 site for months until the government stepped in to pay.

The national memorial will be built on time and opened to the public – even if the price hasn’t been settled.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Albert Schollaert in Pittsburgh said the government believes $611,000 is the fair market price for the Svonavec land. A federal jury will determine what the government will pay for the property.

“The Svonavecs have agreed that it will be left up to the courts to determine,’’ Schollaert said. “Nobody can give you a reasonable determination as to how long this will take.’’

Also mentioned as having interests in the land are members of the Musser family and others in the Svonavec family.

Groundbreaking for the $58 million Flight 93 National Memorial is expected to take place this fall to allow a grand opening in 2011. Forty passengers and crew, along with four terrorists, were killed when passengers rushed the hijacked cockpit and the plane crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

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