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'Most important thing you do in this process': Officials to consult with descendants of those in unmarked graves

The 19 unmarked graves were found during archaeological field work in March.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Archeologists discovered 19 unmarked graves at a burial site near the planned Ford electric battery park in Hardin County. 

Now, crews are working to relocate them to properties of the families to whom they're connected.

The burials were found during additional archaeological fieldwork completed in March, according to the Army Corp of Engineers.

Ford had to complete a permit application review with the Department of the Army. Part of that requirement was for Ford to contract with a qualified archaeologist to examine a cemetery location within the proposed Ford electric battery plant site to determine if the unmarked burials were present.

"My concern is just getting them from point A to B, and once they get them here they can rest," said Delbert Best, a Glendale resident whose property stretches right up to the industrial site line.

Best believes at least a few of the graves found hold his ancestors, who he says first purchased the property in the mid-1800s.

"I went back there as a kid and played marbles back there, but I didn't know there were that many, but I knew my grandfather and his wife and kids were back there," he said.

An official told WHAS11 News the review was triggered by a previous burial relocation at the site pursuant to Kentucky state law. During a WebEx meeting on Tuesday, the Corps revealed their research showed three graves were moved away from that same area in 2003, but said they didn't have any involvement with the relocation.

We learned Hardin County Fiscal Court approved it all those years ago. In a statement, Hardin County Judge/Executive Harry Berry said in 2003, the "Glendale Megasite" began development for industrial use, and worked with descendants to rebury remains in family cemeteries.

Berry said they'll now help to contact relatives of these grave-sites to ensure they're "appropriately and respectfully relocated."

Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers said they are coordinating with the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office, as well as family descendants, regarding the unmarked burial. They say it's tough initially to determine every connection.

Best said crews have spoken with him and have plans to relocate graves onto his property, where he already has a small family burial site set up.

"They're supposed to start moving them next Thursday, about a thousand yards back," he said.

Officials said a plan for the relocation of the cemetery is under review and it must occur “in accordance with Kentucky state law.”

They do not anticipate the cemetery relocation plan review will delay the Corps DA permit decision, but they said the timeline of the development itself will ultimately be Ford's call.

Western Kentucky University's Jay Stottman, assistant director with the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, said this is why the review process often happens years in advance.

"Most family cemeteries have unmarked graves associated with them, and depending on who was responsible for moving it initially, they weren’t able to find all of them -- and that happens," he said, referencing 2003. "Most of the time, it happens when you have someone who was buried a really long time ago, like one of the first property owners or something like that, and maybe they used a field stone to mark it -- or it could have been an enslaved person."

Stottman doesn't think the findings will necessarily slow down the project, but said it will depend on what the family descendants desire.

"Consultation with [descendants] of the people buried in the cemetery is paramount here. It's the most important thing you do in this process," he said.

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