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Officials confident graves will not have to be relocated
A surveyor’s marker at the edge of the Smithville Cemetery in New Ipswich identifies an area of state-owned land beside a dam where the town has mistakenly placed graves. Nancy Bean Foster
NEW IPSWICH — With negotiations under way between the town and state over a parcel of land in the Smithville Cemetery, officials don’t believe grave sites mistakenly placed on state-owned land will need to be moved.
“What’s going to happen is nothing,” said cemetery Sextant Oliver Niemi, who has family members buried in the graveyard. “We’re going to work with the state to find a solution. People don’t want to see the graves moved, on either side — the state or the town.”
The Smithville Cemetery has been part of New Ipswich since America’s earliest days, and some of the town’s founding fathers were buried there, according to Niemi. But the newest part of the cemetery, including the one-acre parcel in question, is on land taken by the state from Niemi’s father in the 1960s. The state took the land in order to build a dam to slow the floodwaters in the Souhegan River during the spring.A section of the land near the cemetery was set aside by the state’s Dam Bureau as a staging area for heavy equipment in case the dam required repairs or maintenance. Sometime in the 1980s, however, the cemetery trustees began using the staging area land for grave sites.
“Something happened in the late ’80s that made the trustees confident that they could use that land for burial,” said Niemi.
The sextant believes there must have been some sort of agreement or misunderstanding between town and state officials about the land at that time, but he has been unable to find any documents to explain what happened. But there are now between 50 and 75 graves on the land.
Last year, the state sent surveyors out to look at the land after it was reported that other areas of the floodplain had been modified by the town in order to make improvements to a ball field. At that time it was discovered that the graves had been placed on state land, not in the town’s cemetery, and concerns were raised that the graves might have to be relocated.
But Selectman George Lawrence said the town has been working closely with the state to ensure that the worst-case scenario doesn’t come to pass. Negotiations over buying the land from the state or swapping the land with another town-owned parcel are occurring, Lawrence said.Voters will see an article on the warrant in March requesting up to $10,000 for the purchase of the land that the graves are on, said Lawrence. Appraisers are looking at what the land is worth in order to arrive at a solid figure before town meeting. It’s possible the town will simply purchase the land from the state and the issue will be resolved.But the town and the state have been discussing the possibility of swapping a piece of town-owned land to replace the state land and serve as a staging area for the dam as a second option. There may be a suitable piece of land owned by the town just on the other side of the dam that would meet the state’s needs. If so, the swap or a combination of a swap and a bit of money could bring the issue to a close.
“I think we can arrive at a viable solution that’s in the best interest of everyone concerned,” Lawrence said. “But there’s no set timetable yet. Hopefully, it will happen sooner than later.”