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Brenda Wilson fought back tears as she stood over the graves of her two children at the old Startown First Baptist Church Cemetery in Newton. She still feels the pain of losing them almost half a century ago but the tears this day were because of a construction project that is just inches from the footstones of those graves and the ones of her mother and father.
"It's just a disgrace that the dead cannot rest in peace," she said.
At issue is a project to expand the Jenkins Funeral Home & Cremation Service building. The funeral home bought the Startown First Baptist Church buildings and the cemetery back in 2007 and now needs to expand the building.
Next to the graves of Wilson's children and parents is where a new sanctuary is planned.
Dwight Herman, Brenda's brother, is concerned that the project is just too close to the graves. "I think it is desecrating them," he said. He used a probe to show where the underground vault holding his father's casket is and measured 13 inches from the back of that to the footings that were poured for the back wall of the sanctuary. "This is just too close," he said.
Funeral home officials said they obtained all the proper permits for the project and said they were not breaking any laws regarding the construction. Officials in Newton agree. There are no setback lines for construction when it comes to cemeteries. Setback lines that would keep the construction at least a few more feet away usually involve property lines.
Since the cemetery is within the entire Jenkins property, no setbacks are required.
Still, Ben Jenkins said the home wants to work with the family and reach a solution which could involve moving the remains in question to another spot in the cemetery. Dwight Herman said if the company had come to the family before the project began something could have been worked out. Now, says Herman, the family has spoken with an attorney and will explore that avenue.
In the meantime Herman is asking local governments to look into possible setback lines for construction near cemeteries to prevent a dispute like this from happened again. "It is too late to help our situation but it might help someone else's situation."