Corps to check status of watery graves

May 14, 2008 at 10:04 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Corps to check status of watery graves
The decision to open the Bonnet Carré Spillway caused heated discussions over whether or not that opening was good for the environment and how it would hamper recreational activities at the site.

However, not too many people thought about how it would affect the remains buried beneath it.

"Yes, there are two graveyards located in the spillway," Chris Brantley, biologist and spillway operations manager, said. "The cemeteries contain the bodies of both free and enslaved African-Americans."

Now that the spillway is closed, one of those cemeteries, the Kugler Cemetery, could have been affected. Brantley says he and Dr. Edwin Lyons, an archaeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be looking to see if the water that poured in from the river affected the gravesite.

"We know there might be some erosion and water damage to the Kugler Cemetery because it's located right in the middle of the spillway and there's a lot of erosion that takes place there," Brantley said. "The archaeologist will go in next week and determine whether or not there's excessive water damage there and then the water will be pumped out."

Brantley says the tombstones and caskets are under several feet of sediment.

"There are markers there letting people know there's a cemetery in the spillway," he said "We keep both sites maintained."

Brantley says descendants in the area often come by to visit the cemeteries.

"We are in the process of updating a master plan and working with the descendants of these families," he said. "We're considering putting in a memorial to develop more of the cultural aspect to let people know just what took place in this part of the river."

The location of the gravesites was a mystery until the 1970's when the corps was attempting to excavate a ditch in the spillway. During that process, a tombstone and casket were discovered. In 1986, the corps ordered a historical study of the spillway and discovered a second cemetery.

"During the study, through oral history from people living in the surrounding area, we were told that the Kugler Cemetery wasn't the only one located in the spillway," Lyons said. "The second cemetery was later discovered and identified as the Kenner Cemetery."

According to the Louisiana Historical Preservation Society, there are 14 graves located in the Kugler Cemetery and 144 in the Kenner Cemetery. The artifacts discovered during the 1986 study included coffin furniture, coffins, grave markers, cultural remains and human remains.

"With the guidance that we have nowadays, if we were to ever do another project that required the use of that area in the spillway, we would work with the descendants a little more in having the remains relocated," Brantley said. "But the decision of the families at the time was to leave the remains in place."

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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