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Enbridge will conduct test to determine if cemetery was moved before digging

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BRUSHTON - Enbridge St. Lawrence Gas has not installed a portion of its natural gas pipeline behind St. Mary’s Church in Brushton so that it can perform a study to determine whether human remains are buried there.

The area where the pipeline was planned to go may have been part of the former St. Mary’s Cemetery, which was used through the late-19th century. Due to failures in record keeping, there is no proof that the remains were ever removed from the old cemetery to St. Mary’s current cemetery on the Gale Road, which some say happened years ago.

While the area has been clear cut and all foliage taken down, Enbridge Assistant General Manager Jim Ward said Monday that no digging has occurred yet.

Mr. Ward said initially the company was approved to install the pipeline in the area directly behind the church. However, after finding out that human remains could still be buried there, the company stopped work, skipped over this area and continued on toward Bangor.

The company received the information about the cemetery from a resident, Mr. Ward added.

“With the new information, it casts a little doubt,” he said of whether the remains are there. “They could not provide proof that the bodies had been moved.”

Fr. Chris Looby of St. Mary’s and other Brushton residents said they believed the bodies had been moved to the Gale Road cemetery back in the 1940s. However, no paper documentation has been found to prove that.

“No remains were dug up,” Father Looby said Thursday. “They’ve [Enbridge] been working back there for the past couple of months and they didn’t find anything, which tells me I was right – the graves were moved years ago.”

To figure out whether the area designated for the gas pipeline contains human remains, Mr. Ward said in a letter that the company plans to use “ground-penetrating radar.”

“If any indications of remains are found, we will adjust our construction plans to ensure that no grave sites are disturbed,” the letter states.

Having to change the course of the pipeline could affect the timeline for the project, he said. However, Mr.Ward noted that Malone is still scheduled to have natural gas by the summer.

Joyce Ranieri, who served as Moira historian for 13 years and also did a tombstone transcription project for the old and current St. Mary’s Church cemeteries, said Monday that throughout her research she was also unable to find proof that the cemetery was moved.

During the time she was transcribing the headstones at the old cemetery, Ms. Ranieri said some were still standing upright in the ground and looked as if they were in the same position they would’ve been in to mark a grave.

“In order to disinter a body, you have to have a burial permit,” she said, adding that a funeral home has to be present as well.

Ms.Ranieri noted that interment records as well as disinterment – digging up and reburying a body – records are all filed with the village or town clerk. She said that she was unable to find any disinterment records for the old St. Mary’s Cemetery, but that does not mean they do not exist.

“It would’ve been very expensive,” Ms. Ranieri said of the disinterment process.

While it has been noted that part of the cemetery was bulldozed over and the stones pushed back at one point to clear for a parking lot by the church, Ms. Ranieri said that it was common years ago for this to happen to old cemeteries.

“It was not an unusual thing,” she said.

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