News 12 First at Five / Monday, Oct. 1, 2012
GROVETOWN, Ga. -- It's been an important part of the King family for years. It's a cemetery where decades worth of loved ones are buried, but now, a dispute with a power company has a family concerned their cemetery will be ruined if Georgia Power is allowed to cut down trees.
As John Wilkins Sr. walked among his ancestors' graves, he says, "It's about as close to your roots as you can get."
The cemetery dates back to the 1800s, even housing the remains of Civil War soldiers.
Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, says, "It's been here for such a long time, and it's such a peaceful refuge."
Allen has relatives buried in the King family cemetery, including her great great uncle, who also served as tax commissioner.
"Lots and lots of family history here, he set this land aside 120 years ago for this purpose," Wilkins said.
On Sunday, family and friends gathered at the quiet oasis in the woods for a memorial service for Wilkins' late wife. The service concluded with Wilkins laying his wife's ashes in their final resting place.
But now, he's worried his wife, along with dozens of his ancestors, may not rest in peace if Georgia Power is allowed to cut down several trees.
"They want to plow straight through the cemetery," Wilkins said.
Back in March, Wilkins noticed stakes in the ground labeled "Georgia Power," and he started asking questions.
"Georgia Power did not formally make me aware of this," he told News 12's Laura Warren.
He found out the property owner told power officials they could use the land to build a power line.
In a statement, Georgia Power says, "The new transmission line is necessary to continue to supply affordable, reliable electricity to the area."
"I think it would be a disgrace to come through here, and cut all these trees," Allen said.
Georgia Power has already removed all of the trees up to the cemetery's fence line.
Wilkins says it's been a tough battle.
"I just feel like I've been drained out, to be honest with you, because I've been dealing with this since March."
His family hired lawyers and paid thousands of dollars to resolve the issue. They say, even though their family no longer owns the property, the deed gives them exclusive easement rights.
"It's been included in every deed as it's changed hands, the same language that the cemetery was set aside for the use of the family's that are buried here to include right of way to said cemetery," he said.
The family has been negotiating with Georgia Power since March, some agreements even including elaborate landscaping plans once the trees are removed.
But now, those negotiations have taken a turn.
"While we were negotiating this, they turned around and filed a lawsuit," Wilkins said.
In the lawsuit, Georgia Power says since it isn't changing the use of the property, they will let a judge decide what happens next.
In a statement released by Georgia Power, they say, "The construction of the line will not interfere with the family members' right of access to or use of the cemetery. They can still enter the cemetery as they wish and maintain the cemetery just as they always have."
Georgia Power also told News 12 they would make every effort not to disturb the graves while building the line.