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Deal Struck for Flight 93 Memorial

Construction on a memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 is to begin in November - a year later than originally planned - after the U.S. government announced Monday that it has agreements to buy 1,400 acres of land at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, crash.

Negotiations for the Pennsylvania land, which will cost an estimated $9.5 million, have been underway for at least six years, but an agreement with a 150-acre scrap yard that will have to relocate was finalized Saturday.

A 275-acre property at the heart of the memorial, which includes the crash site itself, will be acquired through eminent domain, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a news conference. The price of the land will be set by the court. The National Park Service and the landowner, Svonavec, a mining company, had not been able to agree on a price.

Flight 93 was en route from Newark to San Francisco when it was hijacked by four terrorists. The 40 passengers and crew aboard fought to seize control to prevent hijackers from crashing the jet into a possible target in Washington. In the struggle, the hijackers crashed the airplane, belly up, into a reclaimed strip-mining site near Shanksville, Pa. In 2002, Congress authorized a memorial at the site, to be administered by the National Park Service.

Landowner Michael Svonavec said Friday that he is "disappointed" that his property will be acquired through eminent domain but that the government's initial offer of $250,000 for it "wasn't reasonable at all."

"Eminent domain needs to be used as a very last resort by the government, and I think that's exactly what we have accomplished here," Salazar said in an interview Monday after announcing that the land for the memorial had been acquired.

A groundbreaking is set for Nov. 7, according to Joanne Hanley, superintendent of the memorial. The park service has said that construction must begin this fall to complete the first section of the memorial in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Salazar visited the site twice this year in an effort to move the deals forward. "Things had dragged on and dragged on and dragged on, and from the point of view of the landowners, there were many who felt they had not received the attention they should have," Salazar said Monday. His trip "was to give them the message they were important" to the process, he said.

The cost of the first phase of the memorial is $22 million, $9.6 million of which has been raised privately.

Last year, 136,000 people visited the temporary memorial at the site. Park officials predict 250,000 people will visit annually when the entire $58 million memorial is completed.

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