NEW IPSWICH — Seventy to eighty graves at Smithville Cemetery may have to be moved, after surveyors found that the burial sites are encroaching on state land.
“You don’t just pick people up and move them,” Selectmen Chairman George Lawrence said. “There’s a lot involved and it can be costly. We’re really hoping we don’t have to go through that.”
The Smithville Cemetery abuts land that is either owned, or under easement, by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to use for various flood control measures, according to Jim Gallagher, chief of the department’s Dam Bureau.
The cemetery, which is downstream from a flood control dam, was intended to be used as a staging area for heavy equipment whenever the dam needed major reconstruction. But that land has now become a burial ground, Lawrence said.
“I have gravesites in that area myself,” Lawrence said, “and my son is buried there.”
He said the issue arose when DES was alerted the town was adding fill to improve ball fields located in an area behind the dam. Gallagher said because the fill could interfere with flood control, surveyors were sent. They discovered the graves were encroaching on state land.
The state needs the land for staging for dam reconstruction, Gallagher said. If there’s not another suitable piece of property available to the Dam Bureau, it’s possible the graves will have to be moved.
“We may have to relocate some graves because we don’t want to be doing major reconstruction on top of them,” Gallagher said.
Lawrence said that a burial in the affected area of the cemetery was to have taken place Saturday, but an alternate gravesite had to be found in Central Cemetery.
“There’s still room in Central, but a lot of people in town want to be buried in Smithville,” Lawrence said.