Cemetery land swap on the table
Graves on state land presents problem
The state has notified the town that a ball field located within a state flood easement may have to be removed. Also, as many as 80 gravesites are located within state land. (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
NEW IPSWICH — Between 50 and 75 graves are at stake in a dispute between the town of New Ipswich and the state over a parcel of land in the Smithville Cemetery on Binney Hill Road.
The land in question, measuring .92 acres, is owned by the state, and is the designated staging area for equipment should the state need to make repairs to the adjacent dam. However, the ownership of the land was overlooked for a long stretch of time, and New Ipswich sold cemetery plots and has been burying people on that land since 1986.
In May 2013, Conservation Commission member Bob Boynton raised concerns about the ball field located adjacent to the cemetery next to the dam. The field is located in a designated flowage area in the event that the dam floods, and recent field improvements, including additional fill, a backstop and benches, could have come uprooted and blocked the flow of water. The state holds an easement on the ball field, known as Dam Site 35. It is owned by the town and managed by the Conservation Commission, but the state reserves the right to flood the area as necessary. While state officials were inspecting the site, the location of graves on state land was discovered.
The state has requested that the town present a plan for fixing the problem, said Town Administrator Roberta Fraser in an interview Wednesday. The Select Board’s first priority, she said, is keeping the graves intact and in their current locations. But a final decision must be made by next week, she said, to meet the deadline for submission of warrant articles for March Town Meeting, in case one should be required.
Currently, the board is discussing swapping the state’s portion of land for a similar piece of land that abuts the cemetery, and is not taken up by grave plots. There is also the potential to purchase the land from the state. The fair market value of the land is between $5,000 and $10,000, said Fraser. Should the town decide to go that route, the Select Board would request the funds from voters in a warrant at Town Meeting. The hope, though, is to simply arrange a swapping of land, she said. In none of the discussions has moving the tombs been considered as an option, she said.
“At this point it hasn’t even been discussed. We have no intention to remove the graves or to exhume any bodies,” she said.
As for the baseball field, Fraser said, the backstop and benches have been removed. The fill has not. The sports equipment was of larger concern to state officials, said Fraser. The town may still have to address the fill at some point, but the graves in the staging area are the major concern. Little League Director Mark Krook will appear before the Select Board in the spring to discuss whether use of the field will continue to be allowed. Recreational activities are allowed there under the state’s flowage easement, and as long as there are no permanent structures erected, the team will likely be allowed to continue using the field, said Fraser.
Jim Martin, a spokesman with the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, said DES would not comment on the issue until it had received a written plan from the town. He did say the state would be working with the town to resolve the issue.