Bibb cemetery land sought in I-75 project

Stevonne Wells makes a trip to Riverside Cemetery a couple of times each week.

She goes there to visit the grave of her son, 23-year-old Shane Wells, who died in 2007 after a gun accidentally discharged.

On a recent trip she noticed survey stakes with red plastic flags about 20 yards from the flags and Valentine’s Day balloon at the foot of her son’s tombstone.

Wells said she plans to attend and participate in a public hearing Tuesday regarding the Georgia Department of Transportation’s request for a permit to change the use of Riverside Cemetery land adjoining Interstate 75 as part of the I-75 widening project. The interstate splits the cemetery into two parts between the Hardeman Avenue exit and Interstate 16.

Additional right of way, a temporary construction easement and a temporary driveway easement, including Riverside Cemetery land, will be needed for the project, according to the request filed in Bibb County Superior Court.

DOT also plans to build a concrete barrier wall on the northwest side of the interstate, according to the request.

In addition to her son’s grave, Wells said she’s concerned about other plots owned by her family.

“This is a sacred place,” she said of the cemetery. “I just don’t understand why they have to go into the cemetery land. I just don’t think it’s right.”

Macon attorney William Harris, who is representing the GDOT, said the department mailed 186 letters Feb. 7 and 8 to people who have relatives buried near the affected area to inform them of the hearing.

The cemetery also sent out letters, cemetery President Cecil Coke said.

Representatives from GDOT and an archeologist who has checked the affected area for unmarked graves will be available at the hearing to answer questions, Harris said.

Coke said cemetery representatives will attend to represent lot owners’ interests.

No graves will be disturbed as part of the project. The archeologist “is confident nothing anywhere near where we will be moving earth has any burials,” Harris said.

However, 59 graves are located within 25 feet of the project corridor on the northwest side of the interstate. On the southeast side, 64 infant graves and 19 adult graves are within 25 feet of the project, according to the archaeological survey report attached to the request.

A judge will determine whether to grant the GDOT’s request. A decision likely will be made within 30 days of the hearing, Harris said.

Harris said the GDOT must have its request granted before it can negotiate with the cemetery to buy the land.

The survey stakes near Shane Wells’ grave mark where the proposed right of way for the construction project will abut the cemetery.

The roar of interstate traffic already is loud at Wells’ grave, located in a triangular shaped section of the North Gate section of the cemetery nestled between I-75 and Riverside Drive.

In addition to the noise, Stevonne Wells said she’s concerned about how the construction could affect the ease of cemetery visitors’ access to the property and that trees growing between the survey stakes and the interstate may be cut.

While Wells’ grave is close to the survey stakes, dozens are even closer. Farther away from Riverside Drive, a survey stake is within six feet of a mausoleum.

In the Main Gate section of the cemetery, other survey stakes are within feet of infant graves that are adorned with recent memorials.

Coke said the cemetery has received letters and e-mails from people living as far away as Florida and Virginia regarding the GDOT project.

“They are very concerned,” he said. “They have a lot of questions: How does this affect my mother’s grave? My sister’s grave? My baby’s grave?”

Coke said he encourages interested parties to attend the Tuesday hearing and ask questions.

The hearing will be at 2 p.m. in Bibb County Superior Court at the Bibb County Courthouse in downtown Macon.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.