|Updated: 10/28/2011 3:23 pm
||Published: 10/28/2011 3:20 pm
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - There are four graves at the Highway 270 west location where Garland County plans to build its new jail, and County Judge Rick Davis said the county must eventually decide whether to leave them where they are or remove them.
"I don't have a preference. It would probably be best if they were moved, but I'm not really vested one way or another," he said. "It's not really a cemetery as such. It's more where property owners in the years past have buried their loved ones."
He said the decision will be an important part in the jail site preparation process. The county will finalize a $1 million purchase agreement for the 54-acre site in December after $42 million worth of bonds to construct the jail are sold.
Davis said that to his knowledge an unidentified elderly woman living in the area is the only descendant of anybody interred at the grave site. He said no relatives of anybody buried there have contacted the county about the graves.
"I don't know if anybody even visits those graves anymore," he said. "If somebody was still around that visits the site that would make a difference in our decision I'm sure."
Davis the decision about the graves will likely be made after a planned environmental study of the property is completed.
"We probably won't make that decision until we see if they're in the way," he said. "We'll have to make up our minds shortly after the design stage once they start taking bids for site work."
Carol Sikorski, senior vice president/escrow office of Garland County Title Company, said bids are presently being accepted for the environmental study.
"I'm just waiting for bids to come back in," Sikorski said Thursday.
Arkansas Cemetery Board attorney Karyn Tierney said state law defines an abandoned cemetery as one which has at least six permanent grave markers. She said small collections of graves, often containing the remains of family members, are common throughout Arkansas.
"I can only imagine how many there are of those," she said.
Tierney said Garland County would have to obtain a permit from the Arkansas Department of Health to remove the graves from the jail construction site.
"Anytime you want to open up a grave you have to get a permit. To move them, you have to get a permit as well," she said.
Dennis Taylor, engineer supervisor with the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock said the graves at the jail site would not likely pose a public health risk.
"In an old grave site, the body has in all likelihood completely decomposed just leaving bone minerals and that type of thing," Taylor said. "There really would be no health concern on something like that."
But, Taylor said, "I understand how there would be a moral concern if you could find the family" of deceased persons buried in the graves.
Taylor said writs of exhumation and other legalities involved in removing/relocating graves "are handled at the local level, typically by the county judge."