Local News

'Helpless' Sanford community upset by DOT highway expansion project that will disturb dozens of graves

Posted January 31, 2018 5:12 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 7:09 p.m. EST

— The North Carolina Department of Transportation's project to expand Highway 40 in Sanford will disturb dozens of graves in the Shallow Well United Church of Christ cemetery that date back to 1881.

Expanding the road will preserve the church, but Sanford community members are distraught about the graves being moved.

Highway 42 was still being used for horses when some of the graves were first laid.

Donald Thompson, pastor of Shallow Well Church, said 200 people resting beneath granite and grass have the potential to be moved for the DOT's project.

He feels that moving the graves is wrong.

"I said when you're messing around with cemeteries in the south you're not messing with a grave, you're messing with family heritage and history," Thompson said.

Community members have started a petition to stop the DOT's plan to widen the two-lane road to a four-lane highway and add a median.

"It seems overkill with bike lanes and sidewalks and all this stuff," one community member said.

But the DOT said it is planning for future traffic issues.

"We always design projects out 20 to 40 years," DOT Division Engineer Brandon Jones said.

Jones said there's no way to avoid the cemetery with the Highway 421 interchange around the corner, but he understands the community's anger.

"I think about if it were me, first I wouldn't want it to happen to my loved one, but if it did, I want it to happen very sensitively and with the greatest care possible, and that's what we intend to do," Jones said.

The DOT plans to work with a funeral director during the process, and the church plans to rebury the deceased elsewhere on the property.

The DOT says it will contact all the next of kin and pay to move the loved ones wherever they would like. The construction is not expected to begin until the fall of 2019.

"We're helpless to do anything about it. We just have to deal with it the best we can," Thompson said.