As the Cemetery Sexton for the Grand County Cemetery Maintenance District, I would like to provide some information and clarity left out of the article in the March 9-15 Moab Sun News regarding the city’s auxiliary water tank location.
It was strange to me that the article completely omitted the fact that the property Floyd Dean and Saxon Sharpe want the tank located on is not vacant land and is currently in use by the Cemetery District. Extensive plumbing has been put in at great expense to the Cemetery District. The main valves for water for the entire cemetery are on that property. Water lines have already been installed in preparation for eventual burial grounds. And there are, indeed, four bodies buried in this area of the cemetery.
A bit more history of the cemetery property is in order. In 1954, the Bureau of Land Management deeded the Sunset Memorial Gardens cemetery to the City of Moab “for use for cemetery purposes only.” It was given to the City of Moab prior to the formation of Grand County government and the creation of the cemetery special service district. The city approved the formation of the Cemetery District in 1956 and after that point, no city money was used for maintenance of the cemeteries. According to historic deeds, the land given to the city cannot be used for any other purpose than a cemetery without the express permission of the Secretary of Interior/Bureau of Land Management. If, however, the land had not been used or established as a cemetery for a period of 25 years, ownership reverts to the United States. I am not a lawyer and not a BLM land management expert, so I won’t attempt to give tricky legal interpretation of the documents, but it is clear that the intention was that the land be used as a cemetery in perpetuity.
This brings us to the piece of property originally designated as the site for the city’s auxiliary water tank. It sits on the southeast corner of Spanish Valley Drive and Spanish Trail Road. The Cemetery District and the City of Moab have already agreed that the parcel of land just south of Spanish Trail Road has not been developed as a cemetery and was unlikely to be used as part of Sunset Memorial Gardens cemetery since it is detached. Engineers have studied the parcel and agreed it is an appropriate location. The only objection to using this parcel is coming from Mr. Dean and Ms. Sharpe because, contrary to the headlines in the newspaper, it is in their back yard and they don’t want it there.
Asking for the change of location was characterized in the paper as no big deal, but it is a big deal. Grand County’s cemeteries are historically relevant and a final resting place for over 3,000 people who lived and died in Moab. These lands are sacred to thousands more people who live here and expect to be interred here after their deaths. There is no more land designated for cemetery use in Grand County. The cemetery district will never be able to purchase more property on the open market for use as a cemetery. The Spanish Valley cemetery location has only been burying people since 1959 and the remaining property has to last … well … pretty much forever unless someone wants to donate a million-dollar chunk of land for use down the road. From the cemetery district perspective, sacrificing the 3.6 acres for an auxiliary water tank is as much as we can bear to lose. We understand the need and support the city’s choice for its auxiliary tank, but we cannot pull three acres of land from Sunset Memorial Gardens proper and undo thousands of dollars worth of water lines because someone doesn’t want a water tank in their back yard.