Retired Glenwood Springs car dealer John Haines' hope of donating a giant chunk of snow -white marble to the federal government to replace the cracked Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery is stalled again.
Haines' hoped-for donation, which has sat outside the Yule Quarry near Marble since it was cut for the tomb in 2003, didn't even rate a mention in a 34-page Department of the Army report to Congress this week on replacement and repair options for the deteriorating tomb.
Haines' donation creates problems for the federal government because it is free and has not gone through a pricey bidding and specification process.
This week's report — the latest in a string of tomb reports done since Arlington officials decided the marble needed replacing 18 years ago — estimates the cost of replacing the tomb's marble at $2.2 million — $80,000 of that for seeking bids, $90,000 for buying and transporting the marble and the remainder for sculpting.
Haines made the final payment for his $31,000 piece of marble last week. He also has lined up donated transport for the rock on a flag-decorated flatbed truck. He did all that after receiving a letter from an Army major general five years ago thanking him for his "most kind and generous donation."
Better that the government spend $170,000 merely to solicit a bid, then another $2.2 million on the actual marble, because who knows what kind of bargain marble Haines is donating?
…Haines' marble isn't just any marble. It was cut from the same Yule Quarry where the original gold-veined marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was mined nearly 80 years ago. The marble on the outside of the Lincoln Memorial also came from that quarry. The tomb replacement piece was cut after a nearly five-year search for an unflawed piece that would look like the original.
The only problem with Haines' marble really does seem to be the fact that he wants to donate it.
"It's not doable. A citizen can't just give us any piece of marble and say, 'This is what we'll use to replace the tomb,' " said Thurman Higginbotham, deputy superintendent of Arlington.
Meanwhile, the free, room-sized block of marble gracing a hillside near Marble draws some curious tourists who snap pictures in front of it. Haines said if it can't be used for the tomb, he has the option to sell it back to the quarry, where it would be cut up and sold for other projects.
"I understand how the government works," Haines said. "But there comes a point when you just say 'to hell with it.' "
Haines should use the marble to construct a monument to government waste.