By Rich Lord Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The former owner of the Stonycreek land on which Flight 93 crashed would get just a fraction of the asking price for what is now a national memorial under a federal court commission’s decision handed down Monday.
The 275-acre parcel that now houses the Flight 93 National Memorial is worth $1,535,000, according to the three-person commission of property valuation experts that heard evidence in October in a process run by U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose.
That’s a lot closer to the $611,000 that the Department of the Interior paid after it condemned the land than it is to the $23 million sought by the prior owner, Svonavec Inc.
That may not be the end of the matter. An attorney for Svonavec Inc. indicated in a statement that the family-owned business is reviewing the decision, and it has until year’s end to file objections with Judge Ambrose.
Flight 93 was the fourth plane hijacked on September 11, 2001, and its demise during a struggle between the passengers and terrorists made Stonycreek a pilgrimage site.
Michael Svonavec, owner of the company that bears his name, planned to turn the parcel into a museum and visitor’s [sic] center. Instead, the Department of the Interior eventually condemned it, paid him $611,000 and allowed the National Park Service to build the memorial.
Mr. Svonavec sued, estimating that he could have brought in revenue of $2 million to $3 million a year.
“The Svonavec family were good stewards of the Flight 93 Sacred Ground and were happy to keep their property open to the public to visit this historic and sacred site from the time of the initial crash until the taking of their property by the U.S. Government,” wrote attorney Vincent Barbera, who represents Svonavec, in a statement.
He added that the family wishes the National Park Service well in its efforts to complete the memorial.
The commissioners estimated that the annual income from the facility envisioned by Mr. Svonavec would have been just $408,000, and the expenses would have been $194,000. Removing capital expenses of $421,000 from the equation, and applying a discount for risks associated with needed government approvals, the commissioners reached their decision on the land value.
“We’re pleased with the commission’s findings,” said Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement released following the filing of the commission’s decision.
“The United States has strived for a fair outcome in this matter that both awards just compensation for the land owner and that also serves the nation’s clear interest in recognizing the extraordinary sacrifices of the victims of Flight 93 and honors their memory.”