A federal agency will have to move about 60 additional graves to repair a landslide threatening a Harlan County cemetery that once contained the remains of a Revolutionary War soldier.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will seek an emergency court order to speed up the relocation of the graves, said Dana Sexton, the manager of the repair project.
The normal process of getting court authorization to move the graves could take as long as two years, the agency said in a news release. The Corps of Engineers doesn’t want to wait that long because of concern that rainy periods could worsen the collapse and affect more graves.
“This is an active slide still and we are heading into the rainy season,” Sexton said Wednesday.
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Many graves that will have to be moved are unmarked. For those where relatives could be identified, the Corps of Engineers has contacted them and they have agreed to the removal plan, the agency said.
The graves will be moved to Resthaven Cemetery, which is in Harlan County.
The Corps of Engineers moved six graves last November that were at immediate risk of being unearthed because of the slide at Loyall.
The six graves included those of Samuel Howard, his wife, Cloey, and their infant son. Howard served in the American Revolution, witnessing the British surrender at Yorktown that effectively ended the fighting, and later helped settle Harlan County.
Howard, who died in 1840, was among scores of people buried at the Wix Howard Cemetery.
The cemetery is atop a hill at the edge of a deep channel that the Corps of Engineers cut through a ridge in the 1990s to divert the Cumberland River.
The cut-through was part of a project to reduce the risk of flooding in Loyall.
Some spots in the cemetery began sinking last year. By late summer, the ground had sunk several feet in some spots, cracking the asphalt road to the cemetery and creating a 5-foot shear within inches of Howard’s grave.
The footstone at the grave of Howard’s son had fallen into the growing gap.
Rock also had fallen out of the wall of the diversion channel into the river, creating some concern among residents about blocking the channel and causing water to back up.
The subsidence was caused by fractures in the underlying rock. The Corps of Engineers said earlier that it didn’t do core drilling at the cemetery as part of the initial flood-control project, so there were rock features that it didn’t identify.
Heavy rain in early 2016 caused movement in the rock under the cemetery, triggering the failure of the slope.
The repair will involve excavating dirt and rock above the river and installing anchors into solid rock behind the slope.
The width of of the channel will stay the same, but the slope above it will be different, Sexton said.
It will take 15 to 18 months to complete the project once the graves are moved and construction starts, Sexton said.
The corps has estimated that the project will cost about $4 million.