Over their dead bodies: Gold digging operation prompts Lancaster County cemetery swap

Gold won’t be taken over their dead bodies. The bodies will be moved first.

Lancaster County approved a Haile Gold Mine request Monday night to relocate a cemetery so more land can be mined. An abandoned site known informally as the Baker Cemetery is a small, family plot. It sits south of the gold mine, northeast of Kershaw.

Haile’s request doesn’t offer plans to mine for gold at the exact location. It does foresee possible disturbance of the cemetery by expanding mine operations.

The State newspaper reported late last month Australian owner OceanaGold plans to increase the more than 4,500-acre Haile Gold Mine by more than 900 acres. That plan hinges on state and federal environmental regulator decisions.

The abandoned cemetery is south of Haile Gold Mine Road, on property the gold mine bought in 2011. The cemetery is part of the 38-acre tract west of Bob Byrd and Ernest Scott roads.

The property where the cemetery would be moved to is part of a 45-acre timber site off Tom Gregory and Uriah roads. It belongs to the Thomas C. Gregory Family Limited Partnership, county records show. The listed address of that partnership is off Gold Mine Highway, which runs near the site. There is a family cemetery there now.

The sites are on opposite sides of the larger Haile mining operation. A straight line from the abandoned and new cemetery sites stretches about 3 miles.

State law allows for cemetery relocation. It takes approval from a local legislative body, in this case, the county. It also requires a deed showing the cemetery is abandoned, legal notice in an attempt to contact any relatives, an archaeological firm and a funeral director.

Tommy Baker at Baker Funeral Home in Kershaw is listed in the county resolution allowing the move. Baker said he hasn’t spoken with the gold mine owners yet.

“We had helped them before,” Baker said.

Several years ago, about 40 graves were relocated to the Sand Hill Missionary Baptist Church cemetery, Baker said. The archaeological firm did the moving.

“We were there basically to oversee, to make sure the deceased were properly cared for and there was the utmost respect and dignity for the deceased,” he said.

Baker said he doesn’t know how many graves could be moved this time, how old they are or any other details.

“This is very early in the stages,” he said.

Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes confirmed the abandoned cemetery is a small family site. He also isn’t sure how many graves are there or how far back they date. The remains there are biologically related to the Gregory family and to remains at the relocation cemetery.

“(The abandoned site) was a family cemetery and they found some distant relatives that also had a family cemetery,” Carnes said.

Haile will pay for the relocation. No heirs to the people buried at the abandoned site were identified. Headstones or other monuments there will be relocated and will remain as they are.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the company didn’t know about the cemetery until after the land purchase. He said there was another time graves had to be relocated in the county during the development of Sun City Carolina Lakes community in Indian Land.

Carnes said county leaders largely defer to agreements and requirements between the property owners and the state in such cases.

“I know it can be done,” he said. “It’s not something that happens very often.”

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