9-11 Relatives Lobby Congress for Memorial Funding
By Dan Eggen
Amid all the usual monied interests mobbing Capitol Hill this week in search of federal largesse, several lawmakers met with a decidedly humbler lobbying group: relatives of those who died on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
A contingent from the Families of Flight 93 advocacy group made the unusual trek to Washington in a bid to ensure that plans for a permanent memorial to their loved ones remains on track, with hopes of starting construction later this year at the crash site near Shanksville, Pa.
Three members of the group--Gordon Felt, Deborah Borza and Calvin Wilson--accompanied lobbyist Will Hollier of Hollier & Associates for a series of stops in lawmakers' offices during the past two days, including meetings with Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter (R) and Bob Casey (D) and Rep. Bill Schuster (R-Pa.).
The $58.4 million memorial project features $18.4 million in promised federal funds, including nearly $5.5 million in the 2009 omnibus budget bill currently under debate in Congress. But the family group is looking ahead to the 2010 fiscal year, when it hopes to receive another $7.2 million installment.
"We are looking to get people on board for the 2010 funds," said Felt, who lost his older brother, Edward, in the crash. "We're not done yet."
The Flight 93 National Memorial was commissioned by an act of Congress in 2002 and is being paid for primarily through private fundraising and a $10 million grant from the state of Pennsylvania. The project recently overcame a major hurdle when the National Park Service and the families group reached an agreement with a local business owner, who had resisted offers to buy a plot of land that included the crash site.
The Boeing 757 plummeted into the countryside near Shanksville after passengers thwarted attempts by al-Qaeda hijackers to take the plane to Washington. All 33 passengers and seven crew members died along with four terrorists.
The family members said one common theme in their talks with Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff is recognition that the Flight 93 passengers probably thwarted an even larger disaster: The hijackers are believed to have been headed for the U.S. Capitol or the White House. "I think there is a sense of gratitude there," Felt said.
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