PITTSBURGH – A man who owns property at the site where Flight 93 crashed has demanded millions for his portion of land where a memorial is planned, and has installed a donation box to help pay for security. The actions by Mike Svonavec have angered victims' families, who believe he is overcharging and disagree with the need for a donation box.
"That land has been paid for with 40 lives ... the donation box is an insult to that cost," said Patrick White, vice president for Families of Flight 93.
Svonavec wants $10 million for his 273-acre property in Somerset County, far more than the per-acre amount paid for nearby land, White said Tuesday. He said Svonavec told him about his asking price last July, and that he has rejected three offers from the group — the latest for more than $500,000.
"I think Svonavec believes his land, because it has the blood of my cousin and 39 other people, it's worth more," he said.
Svonavec said he wants fair market value for the parcel and he would accept no money for the exact site where 40 passengers and crew members died when the hijacked United Airlines flight crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. He declined to comment on the $10 million figure.
The donation box, installed near a temporary memorial on the land, would help cover security costs. Security has been handled by a firm at a cost of about $10,000 per month since federal funding ran out in February. The site has also incurred other costs, he said.
"I just can't afford it," Svonavec said. "I need some help."
Memorial planners have purchased 60 of the 1,300 acres needed for a permanent memorial and national park. Svonavec owns the second-largest parcel of land in the area after PBS Coals Inc., which owns 864 acres.
White said he is negotiating with PBS Coals, and the remaining parcels are in various stages of being acquired.
Svonavec said he is working with advisers, including Randall Bell, a California-based real estate appraiser who specializes in properties where disasters have occurred. Svonavec said he is waiting for a completed appraisal.
He said he had asked to deal exclusively with the National Park Service, which also is working on the memorial, rather than the group. He said he rejected an earlier Park Service offer because "it just wasn't acceptable."
The Park Service is preparing another appraisal. Joanne Hanley, the Park Service superintendent of the site, declined to comment.
Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it was hijacked and crashed in a field near Shanksville as passengers rushed the cockpit, according to the 9/11 Commission.
The $58 million memorial was established by an act of Congress in 2002. Construction tentatively has been scheduled to start in late 2008 or early 2009, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony has been planned for the 10-year anniversary of the attacks.