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Gas company halts pipeline to examine site for graves

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BRUSHTON — Enbridge St. Lawrence Gas has not installed a portion of its natural gas pipeline behind St. Mary’s Church to allow a study to determine whether human remains are buried there.

The area where the pipeline was planned may have been part of the former St. Mary’s Cemetery, which was used through the late 19th century.

Because of record-keeping failures, there is no proof the remains were moved from the old cemetery to St. Mary’s site on Gale Road.

While the area has been clear cut and all foliage has been taken down, Enbridge assistant general manager Jim Ward said Monday that no digging has occurred.

A resident informed the company about the cemetery, Mr. Ward said.

“With the new information, it casts a little doubt,” he said. “They could not provide proof that the bodies had been moved.”

The Rev. Chris Looby of St. Mary’s Church and other Brushton residents said they believed the bodies were moved to the Gale Road cemetery in the 1940s.

However, no documentation has been found.

“No remains were dug up,” Father Looby said last week.

Enbridge has “been working back there for the past couple of months and they didn’t find anything, which tells me I was right — the graves were moved years ago.”

Mr. Ward wrote in a letter that the company plans to use “ground-penetrating radar” to determine if human remains are there.

“If any indications of remains are found, we will adjust our construction plans to ensure that no grave sites are disturbed,” the letter states.

Changing the pipeline’s course could affect the project’s timeline, he said.

However, Mr. Ward said, Malone residents are still scheduled to have natural gas by the summer.

Joyce Ranieri, who served as the town of Moira’s historian for 13 years and transcribed tombstones for the old and current St. Mary’s Church cemeteries, said Monday that throughout her research she was unable to find proof the cemetery was moved.

While she transcribed the headstones at the old cemetery, Ms. Ranieri said, some still stood upright in the ground and looked as if they were in the same position they would’ve been in to mark a grave.

“In order to disinter a body, you have to have a burial permit,” she said, and a funeral home employee has to be present.

Ms. Ranieri said interment records as well as disinterment — digging up and reburying a body — records are filed with the village or town clerk.

She said she could not find any disinterment records for the former St. Mary’s Cemetery, but that does not mean they do not exist.

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