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VA puts plan to cut down Crown Hill trees for memorial on hold

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A plan to cut down parts of the Crown Hill Cemetery forest has been sidelined by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Monday afternoon the VA issued a stop-work order on the veterans memorial project that has been surrounded by controversy since 2015.

The VA purchased a 14.75-acre plot of land from the cemetery in September 2015 in order to build a memorial for veterans. According to early project plans by the VA’s final environmental assessment, the site would contain columbarium walls to hold cremated remains, a flagpole area, a small public information area, restroom building and entrance road way. The plans also call for additional columbarium walls to be added every 10 years as the need grows.

The land is made up of a dense, old-growth forest with some trees that are 300-years-old, and in order for the memorial to be built, most of the trees would be torn down.

The Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) is protested the project. They argued that the VA should have looked for alternative locations so that the North Woods could be saved.

A few days ago, Mayor Joe Hogsett asked the VA to halt plans to build the memorial and find a way to build it without cutting down trees.  However, construction had already begun on the project.

On Monday morning, around two dozen protesters, including some who are veterans, gathered at a construction entrance to Crown Hill National Cemetery. They placed tree limbs in the road, held signs, and waved American flags.

The group said they planned to stay until the VA agreed to consider an alternative..  "We believe we have a moral obligation to protect this irreplaceable forest as all appropriate legislative and judicial channels have been exhausted," said veteran Lori Perdue.

A few hours after the protest started IMPD officers and the groups attorney, Russ Sipes, delivered the news that a work-stop order had been issued.

Protesters called it a "great victory."

“And I think it is a testament to people’s commitment and hopefully it’s a testament to the VA’s responsiveness," Sipes said

"We want a place that is respectful of our veterans that doesn't require destroying a 500 year old forest. There’s options out there, ” Zach Adamson said.

Sen. John Ruckelshaus issued the following statement regarding the project:

“I encourage the Veterans Affairs Department, Crown Hill Cemetery and citizens’ groups to work together on the planned monument at Crown Hill cemetery. I hope these groups will listen to each other’s concerns as they work to find a suitable solution.”

FOX59 reached out to the VA for comment, but we have not yet heard back.