DEER CREEK — Work crews have begun excavating a suspected Miami County pioneer gravesite, and descendants of the Waisner and Rickard clans are looking to Miami County officials for answers.
After more than a year of wrangling, county officials quietly gave the go-ahead to a property owner in the Deer Creek Estates subdivision to install a new septic system.
The decision has angered family members, who have been fighting for more than four years to preserve what they consider to be a cemetery.
State officials charged with protecting pioneer cemeteries have refused to step in, saying the documents used to back the families’ claims can’t be substantiated.
Meanwhile the property owner, Janea Moore, has been trying to rebuild since an April 4, 2011, fire destroyed her modular home.
Miami County environmental health specialist Ken Scott said Thursday he issued a septic permit June 21, after consulting with Miami County Attorney Pat Roberts.
“I have no recourse to not issue a permit,” Scott said. “There is nothing in black and white that says ‘I cannot issue a permit.’”
Jeannie Regan-Dinius, a historic preservationist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said legal documents were able to show the old Waisner-Rickard Cemetery was located somewhere within a 2.5-acre area.
The Moore property takes up most of that 2.5 acres, and the families contend hand-drawn maps and anecdotal evidence from several sources pinpointed the cemetery squarely where the new septic is being installed.
Dan Phillips, a descendant of Anthony Rickard, said he blames county officials for the destruction of the gravesite, saying they never checked all of the deed documents before issuing a building permit for the site back in the early 1980s.
Phillips said Friday he’s also upset with state officials for doing nothing to protect the site. The state conducted an investigation in 2009, but investigators said they couldn’t narrow down the possible cemetery location.
But the relatives continued to pressure county officials, who refused to issue either a new septic permit or a building permit after the April 4 fire.
Last year, in a lawsuit filed against Miami County, the property owner claimed county officials refused to issue her a permit to reconnect to the existing septic system, thereby making it impossible to rebuild on the site.
In the lawsuit, Moore said health department officials wouldn’t issue a septic permit until the county plan commission issues a construction permit.
County plan commission officials, she said, blamed the health department, and said they couldn’t issue a construction permit without seeing a septic permit first.
Thursday, Scott said he was only waiting for the property owners to bring him plans for a new septic system, and said he had no choice but to issue a permit after he received those plans.
It’s unclear what Scott’s decision does to Moore’s lawsuit, which was scheduled to go to trial later this year.
Scott said to his knowledge, no one from the county went out to observe the septic excavation/installation, and said the contractors were told to immediately report any findings of “anything even vaguely resembling a bone” to authorities.
So far, there are no reports that anything has been found.
“Everyone’s upset. It really is a disgrace that Miami County can do this to the forefathers who founded that county,” Phillips said.
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.