LISBON -An abandoned cemetery is among the issues Baard Energy must address before it constructs a $6 billion plant that converts coal and biomass into diesel and jet fuel.
The existence of the Cuppy Cemetery in Yellow Creek Township was discovered several years ago during an environmental impact study performed of the 522 acres being considered for Baard's Ohio River Clean Fuels plant.
The media first learned of the cemetery last week after Columbiana County Commissioner Penny Traina received a call from a woman wanting to preserve the cemetery.
Steve Dopuch, vice president at Baard Energy, provided these photos of the Cuppy Cemetery on the Yaney farm in Yellow Creek Township. (Submitted Photo)
County Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake confirmed the small cemetery is located on the Yaney farm, one of 17 properties being acquired by the port authority for the Baard project using money mostly provided by the company and the state. The property will then be leased or transferred to Baard, whichever the company prefers.
Drake said before most of the property will serve as a buffer for plant operations, but what property depends on where Baard decides to build the plant on the 522 acres. He was asked if the cemetery would need to be relocated.
"I don't know the answer. That has to be answered by Baard as they go forward," Drake said.
Baard Vice President Steve Dopuch said they have yet to decide, but preliminary engineering work indicates the cemetery may have to be relocated. He said they are waiting until the weather breaks to get back to the site and begin tackling the cemetery issue since groundbreaking is expected to start this spring.
The cemetery issue has drawn interest from local historians and people who say they have ancestors buried in the cemetery. The port authority received six such letters in 2010 - four since October - from people asking the cemetery be preserved.
According to information gleaned from some of the letters and the Jefferson County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society Web site, the cemetery was begun by the Sarah Maylone Cuppy family and believed to be one of the first cemeteries in the county. Begun as a family cemetery, it also served as a cemetery for a church that no longer exists. The cemetery existed between 1810 and 1946, and the amateur historians say between 200 to 234 people may be interred there.
"I feel to remove them and the more than 200 people from their final resting place would be a dishonor, not only to them but to our entire family and the other families who have relatives buried in the cemetery," wrote Joycenia Plunkett in one of the letters forwarded to the port authority.
"These men and women who are buried in the cemetery are the early pioneers and settlers who contributed to the village of Wellsville becoming what it is today," she added.
Dopuch disputed the 200-grave estimate. "We don't see any evidence of that," he said. "Our study shows its more like 45."
Dopuch said if they decide to relocate the cemetery it will be done in accordance with state law and in consultation with township officials to determine the best place to re-inter the graves.
He said the wire field fence around the cemetery is down and some of the headstones are missing or knocked over. "It hasn't been kept up for decades, so before we would move that cemetery we would have a lot of work that would have to be done."
The first step is to maintain a 100-foot buffer zone around the cemetery, which Dopuch estimates is less than an acre in size. Besides relying on old records and other sources of information, ground-penetrating radar may be used to determine cemetery boundaries.
"There's a lot of work we're going to be doing in and around the cemetery to find out what's there," he said, adding part of their job will be to attempt to notify the descendants of the cemetery's inhabitants before doing anything.
"We take this seriously and we will try to contact the next of kin to let them know what we plan," Dopuch said.