Vets concerned about Wasilla monument

A planned senior care project near Wasilla has hit a wall… literally.  It seems the design for the specialized nursing complex intrudes on space now occupied by the Veterans Wall of Honor Memorial, and some local veterans say they are not backing down in their stand against moving the wall.

The Veterans' Wall of Honor in Wasilla. Photo: Veterans' Wall of Honor website.
The Veterans’ Wall of Honor in Wasilla. Photo: Veterans’ Wall of Honor website.

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It’s a complicated Matanuska-Susitna Borough land use issue. At the Jan.12 Borough Assembly meeting, Doug Clegg of Idaho-based Spring Creek Investments updated the Assembly on his company’s plan to buy land the Borough is selling for Spring Creek’s  proposed specialized nursing services complex to house chronically ill seniors.

Borough manager John Moosey says the 108-unit, $10-million senior care complex is something that is needed in the Valley so families with elderly members needing special care can stay in the Borough.

Clegg’s company and the Borough have entered into a contract on 4.5 acres located near the Mat-Su Regional Hospital, land that will be used to build the complex designed specifically for elders who need physical or dementia nursing care. Klegg showed the Assembly architects renderings of the proposed building and its surrounding views. He said the veteran’s honor wall, now located on the property, would be better moved to a different site on the property.

“We had an air  survey completed on this site, and topographically, relocating the monument to the Northwest corner is the highest elevation and provides the greatest view. And that’s where we are recommending that the VA monument be relocated to.”

Clegg said one of the challenges to viewing the wall where it stands now is accessibility since it is a distance from available parking. He said moving it would put it closer to parking and give visitors a better view of the mountains. And he said, the developers would respect the wishes of the veterans concerning the wall,

“And in saying that, I have to say, I have to qualify that and say that we have a great interest in protecting the integrity of what the wall represents. And that means that if those that are involved in that legacy, have a desire to make changes, we support it. If they have a desire to do something other than that, and take it somewhere else, then we support it.”

But some veterans are adamant about not moving the wall at all.

“This is a landmark, we don’t want it moved, that’s sacred ground,” Wasilla former Marine Dino Beligotti told the Assembly.

“That wall was built for veterans, and veterans have been maintaining it. Every year, it goes to a different post to present at Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We’re the ones doing it,”  Beligotti said.

Beligotti protested that veterans groups had not been invited to talks about the land purchase or the development.

Borough attorney Nick Spiropolous says the land purchase agreement contains a clause that states the veterans wall will remain on the property. But the agreement is complicated by the fact that neither the Borough nor Spring Creek owns the wall, so neither entity can move it. The owners of the wall can, but actual ownership of the memorial is vague. State records indicate a nonprofit corporation, the Areawide Community Services Council, owns the memorial. Beligotti wants to know how a nonprofit came to own the memorial.

“How can a nonprofit own a veterans wall that was built with donations and blood and sweat from veterans? How can a nonprofit organization legally own it? That was built with our sweat and blood.”

The Areawide Community Services Council incorporated in 2002, with now-state senator Charles Huggins listed as president of the corporation. Huggins remained president through 2011. Since then, the corporation has dissolved a couple of times, but was reinstated most recently in October of 2014, with new directors and John Schwoltz of Wasilla named as president of the corporation. After a meeting with Spring Creek last week, Schwoltz says that negotiations with Spring Creek are cordial, but inconclusive at this point.

“If we get enough room that we can hold our ceremonies… you better believe it. We don’t want to move it. If it has to be moved, but stay up in that area that they have, beautiful. It’s all that we ask. But it has to be to our liking too. And so far, Spring Creek is working with us. The architects have to come in now and show us the plans, what they want to do.”

Another meeting is scheduled for February with four veterans groups and Schwoltz . The Schwoltz family has been caretaking the wall for about twenty years. John Schwotlz says it is important that the wall, which holds the names of living and dead veterans, keeps its view of Pioneer Peak and the nearby Mt. POW-MIA.