News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012
GROVETOWN, Ga. -- A Grovetown family is one step closer to victory over a power company.
Georgia Power was trying to build a power line through their family cemetery, but a judge ruled in the family's favor Tuesday.
This battle has been going on since March, and the case really boils down to property rights. The family no longer owns the acre of land their cemetery sits on, but the property deed says they have rights to use the cemetery. The two sides couldn't reach an agreement so a judge cleared things up.
John Wilkins Sr. has been fighting to save his family cemetery, and he says now, the judge's decision makes the fight worth it.
"I'm feeling pretty doggone good right now! We got a great verdict in here," he said.
It's a huge victory after a long fight, a fight News 12 has been investigating for a month now.
"We got a spark going because of you guys!" Wilkins said.
Judge Michael Annis ruled that Georgia Power has the right to be on the property and use the property, as long as that doesn't mean harming the graves or the setting in any way, like cutting down trees.
"It's not just that particular spot where the body is in the ground, it's the location, the setting," Annis said.
Wilkins agreed, saying, "That's what we've been saying all along, and the judge concurs that that is in fact desecrating a grave, so we're feeling really good."
Georgia Power argued they wouldn't be desecrating the property or changing its use by building their transmission line.
In court, their attorneys argued, "We have no plans for poles or structures through the cemetery. Nothing that would affect the defendant's using the cemetery as a cemetery."
But the problem is the power company would have to cut down any trees taller than 15 feet. And a lot of those trees are really close to graves.
"If we come along and kill the tree, then we're going to have roots that rot," Annis said.
The family's attorney argued that could cause the graves to sink into the ground, but Georgia Power argued, "Your honor, the trees aren't going to live forever."
The judge ruled that cemeteries are special, and even though there aren't a lot of Georgia laws relating to them, they should be protected.
"It is a sacred thing, because there's a certain peace and comfort that comes with being close to someone you can't be close with otherwise," Annis said.
After the decision, Georgia Power representatives told News 12 they couldn't comment on ongoing litigation. We asked if that meant they were planning to appeal the decision, again, they said no comment.