Piles of trash, overgrown brush, burial vaults that have been cracked open by downed trees, and exposed caskets.
The scene is nothing like the serene burial grounds that many St. Charles Parish families envisioned as their deceased loved ones final resting place, and yet it is the harsh reality that exists at the end of Union Road in Montz.
Lois Parquet organized nearly 50 people to meet on the grounds Sunday night to discuss what can be done, and who is ultimately responsible for the condition on the land.
“There were deplorable conditions prior to Hurricane Ida … it was bad,” she said. “Now it has gotten unbearable.”
The land, residents say, has been passed down from generation to generation in an unofficial family association. The problem, Parquet said, is what can be done to correct the deplorable conditions of the cemetery.
She said calls to parish officials have yielded information but no action. St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Director Michael Albert confirmed that his office has been contacted numerous times about the issues, but that there is little the parish can do.
According to land records, Albert said, there is no official owner of the property and hasn’t been since the 1900s. With no one legally responsible for the land, Albert said the parish’s process of sending letters for code violations with dates to complete work by and fines that may be charged can not be done in this case. He added that the parish cannot send their crews and equipment out to clean up the property because it is illegal for the parish to maintain private land.
Albert said that the parish is in talks of changing the code violation notification process from letters delivered to signs placed on a property. But with no one legally responsible for the land, Parquet said, a sign won’t matter.
“We’ve gone as far as we can go,” Parquet said.
Several residents said they were quoted figures ranging from $700-$900 for a space in the cemetery by Ron Richard of Montz. They said they obtained his name and number from local funeral homes. The Herald Guide’s calls to funeral homes yielded no results, as the funeral homeowners said they did not have contact information for the owner of the burial ground.
“Everyone knows it’s him,” one local resident who asked to not be named said. “He’s who is collecting the money and not even having to pay taxes.”
Calls to several phone numbers publicly association with Ron Richard resulted in no conversations. One number was disconnected, while messages left on voicemails to other numbers did not result in a call back.
Betty Collins is one local resident who remembers how the area used to be maintained.
“This was a place for everyone from this area,” she said. “It was a nice community place and at first it was taken care of. We complained and complained about it … it’s been about four years. I just stopped complaining and stopped coming. It used to bring a sense of peace to me. For All Saints Day you would see people you haven’t seen in years back here visiting with each other and their loved ones. As the years have gone by it’s gotten worse … it’s just so heartbreaking to come back here.”
Pastor Tyrone Scott was another local resident in attendance Sunday night.
“We just want the honorable and right thing done,” he said.