The Harlan Fiscal Court approved action during a meeting on Tuesday which will pave the way for the Army Corps of Engineers to resolve an issue with the Wix-Howard Cemetery in Loyall at no cost to the county.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley brought the topic before court shortly after the meeting began.
“You may recall this is the cemetery on the outskirts of Loyall between Loyall and Rio Vista,” Mosley said. “It’s where the Corps of Engineers project…cut through the mountain. The cemetery is literally falling into the Cumberland River.”
Mosley pointed out there has been a lot of attention on the issue, including media reports and social network activity.
“We discovered the issue back at the end of March,” Mosley explained. “We immediately notified the Corps of Engineers. They came and looked at it, and felt it was just general settling at that time and didn’t feel there was any action needed. By May, you could see substantial drops. They came back in June and still felt it was general settling.”
Mosley said when the Army Corps of Engineers returned in July to inspect the levees, Emergency Management Director David McGill took inspectors back to the cemetery.
“At that point in time, they just about freaked out from what they saw from the standpoint of what they’d seen in early June versus the middle of July,” Mosley said.
Mosley pointed out the cemetery is on the national registry of historic cemeteries, with an abundance of history attached. Samuel Howard, a revolutionary war veteran, as well as his wife Chloe and infant child are buried in the cemetery.
“We’ve been lobbying the Corps of Engineers, we’ve been working with Congressman Hal Rogers office for the past four to five months,” Mosley said. “Things have developed over the past little bit — there’s finally been some movement.”
Mosley said a meeting took place late last week between Rogers office in Washington D.C. and some of the Army Corps of Engineers personnel.
“Based on what the Corps of Engineers has seen…they have determined this is a design flaw,” Mosley said. “By determining this is a design flaw, this gives them the ability to reopen the project.”
A post on the Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Facebook page addresses the issue, stating the historical remains will be moved.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes the historical and emotional significance of the Wix Howard Cemetery in Loyall, Ky., and the remains buried there,” reads the Corps of Engineers post. “As the Corps has worked through this issue, we have determined that we do have some authority to provide corrective action of the slope failure including moving of the threatened historic remains. We recognize the historical and emotional importance of this site to the community and families affected. We continue to work with local, state, and federal government stakeholders to protect the threatened remains and stabilize the sliding slope, recognizing that the risk of continued ground movement makes these efforts all the more urgent. Thank you for your continued patience as we continue to work together towards this common goal.”
Mosley told the court the repairs for the project would not require any county funding.
“Back in the early nineties when they did these projects, they were 100 percent federally funded,” Mosley explained. “They’re going to go back to the language associated with that original agreement between the county and the federal government. They will proceed with this repair project at 100 percent cost to the federal government, so there will be no local cost share involved.”
Mosley advised the magistrates a letter had been received from the Corps of Engineers stating their intent.
“It is now our expectation that the Nashville District will move forward with a project modification to address the landslide,” Mosley read. “Further, the project modification will be made…at 100 percent federal cost.”
Mosley informed the court the property would have to be deeded to the county for the project to take place.
“We can’t work on private property and neither can the federal government,” Mosley said. “They recommended a quitclaim deed.”
Mosley explained a quitclaim deed would be executed between the county and the property owner Marilyn Unthank. In the meantime, the property owner would sign a right of entry to allow work to begin.
After some further discussion, the court passed a motion to accept a quitclaim deed.
The magistrates expressed no opposition to the project, passing the motion unanimously.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde