Graves to be moved for highway expansion

Several graves will have to be moved for the expansion of Highway 7 South. The graves are part of a known but largely unmarked cemetery on the property occupied by Lafayette County’s road shop, and some lie where a frontage road to Highway 7 is planned by 2020.

Mississippi Department of Transportation officials asked Lafayette County supervisors on Monday to suggest county land on which an estimated 14 to 20 human remains, believed to have been buried on county property for more than 100 years, could be relocated.

“We haven’t yet been to (Mississippi Department of) Archives and History, so we don’t know exactly what they’re going to ask us to do,” said David Evans, assistant construction engineer for MDOT’s Batesville district.

“The only markers are some sandstones … stuck up edgeways,” added Kelly Standard, MDOT district utilities coordinator. “You can see the depressions in the ground where they’ve settled.”
Utility workers plan to move electric lines and water and sewer pipes for the entire frontage road before construction begins this year on the northern section, which will link FNC’s new office building with its present one on Office Park Drive. The work would include part of the county shop site.

“That used to be called Poor House Hill,” said District 3 Supervisor Robert Blackmon, noting that indigents were housed and fed there at county expense, and if they died there they were buried on the same grounds.

Evans said MDOT will contract with the University of Mississippi to use ground-penetrating radar to positively count and locate each grave.

“We’ll survey and figure out exactly how many graves we would have to move. MDOT’s willing to pay all costs to do this,” Evans said. “There probably aren’t any significant remains other than some dark soil.”

When Evans suggested relocating the remains uphill from their present location onto another portion of the county property, Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby said, “I don’t think behind the shop is an appropriate place.”

Road Manager Jerry Haynie added, “There’s no room for graves behind there.”

District 1 Supervisor Mike Pickens said the county should have no role in the body relocation.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is y’all’s baby,” he told Evans and Standard. “I don’t want to know about it.”

When the MDOT representatives acknowledged the utilities could be bored under the graves or routed around them, Pickens replied, “You’ve got plenty of time other than with the utilities.”
Supervisors took no action on the issue.

errol.castens@journalinc.com

Twitter: @oxfordcitizenec

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