The owners of neighbouring properties near where human remains were found last summer have received notice of that fact from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
A letter, dated Feb. 20, was sent to a small number of landowners who have property located between Ninth St. and the rail tracks on Stanley Avenue in Chatham, stating the municipality was informed by the owner of 197 Stanley Ave., Heather Tape, that “probable human remains were discovered in August 2012 during excavation on the property.”
Due to this, the letter “encourages” owners and occupants of lands in this area to consult a lawyer and/or archaeologist before doing any excavation on their property.
John Norton, director of legal services, also sent a copy of the letter to all members of the Chatham-Kent Real Estate Board as a courtesy in case they are involved a real estate transaction in the area.
Heather Tape said the whole situation “gives new meaning to call before you dig.”
The Chatham Daily News has written several stories on this issue over the past month since learning Tape and her husband Jack are facing costs of up to $100,000 to pay for an archaeological assessment and possibility having to re-inter several bodies believed to be where a former cemetery was located.
The Daily News asked the municipality about the timing of the letter being sent to other landowners since this issue has been known for several months.
Paul Lacina, chief building officer, said the timing is due to the land being private property and the Tapes and the Registrar of Cemeteries were doing some investigation.
“They were kind of keeping us in the loop and it took some time for that investigation to go through the process,” he added.
Gary Pryor, who owns two homes near Tape's property, received the letter and believes the municipality is just trying to “cover their own ass.”
He added the letter “is a joke.”
Pryor believes the municipality is “quite aware” this area is the site of a former cemetery and church.
He points to a plaque recognizing the area as being the site of the former St. Paul's Anglican church, which has been in place on the front lawn of a home at the corner of Stanley Avenue and Ninth Street for decades.
Pryor is also concerned about the impact this will have on property values in the area, since the letter states the municipality may not be in a position to issue a building permit with an assurance the owner will comply with “all applicable laws.”
Lacina said due to the potential for finding human remains, the municipality will want people to sign something to confirm they have been informed if they find human remains they will have follow the regulations and laws.
He said cemeteries aren't the only thing the municipality advises people about with respect to property issues. He said people have also been advised if there is “suspect soil,” and they will have to follow certain legislation or do something with the soil.
It has been documented in The Daily News that human remains were found in late November 1999 when municipal workers were doing sewer work near where the Tapes now own property.
The newspaper learned that a report was not filed when those human remains were found, only that an archaeologist sent by the province made a telephone call to the Registrar of Cemeteries.
Lacina was asked if the municipality received any report from the archaeologist in 1999.
“My understanding is that they did not,” he said.
Lacina said, “my understanding, the only information that the municipality received (in 1999) was that from the newspaper.”
Jack Tape has a copy of 1999 police report that states a regional archaeologist who attended the scene was of the opinion where the human bones were discovered “was an actual burial site.”
Even though he believes the municipality and province should have known about this situation, Tape doesn't hold out much hope that the issue will be resolved.
He doesn't have an issue with the letter the municipality sent. In fact, he'd like to see landowners with property located on cemeteries were located, be informed of that fact, so they don't have to go through what his family is experiencing.
“Obviously, there's not a lot of support out there, so it's important people are given the proper information before making a major investment,” Tape said.