City, residents grapple with Forest Hill flooding
The grave rises after heavy rainfall in Forest Hill Cemetery – enough to lift the casket a few inches out of the ground.
It has done this since the deceased was buried here in 2009, and city engineers are not sure why. But it troubles North Port St. Joe resident Eddie Fields and other members of the community.
“A young lady knew I was going to city commission meetings and mentioned that grave to me,” he said. “Asked me to go out there and take a look at it. I said sure.
“So, I went out there to look at it, and I just decided to ride around, and I said ‘Let me take some pictures.’ I was just taking the pictures to look at them later… but I said ‘Let me put it out there so whoever sees this will know that’s [their] family member’s grave,” he said.
Fields took to Facebook. From there, it gained traction in the North Port St. Joe community, and he decided flooding issues at the cemetery needed to be discussed with the city government.
The grave and other Forest Hill issues have been a topic of conversation at city commission meetings since. Now, more than a month later, this conversation has become an ongoing discussion about much-needed improvements in the graveyard.
There were new standards for interment set by the city in 2013, said City Auditor and Clerk Charlotte Pierce, which were designed to prevent graves from surfacing after rainfall. This grave in particular was buried before these policies were put in place, and she said it is the only one she knows of in the cemetery that periodically pops up.
“Because it wasn’t set by the new standards, [the graves] start to come up,” City Manager Jim Anderson said. “That one shows every couple of years once we get a heavy, heavy rain.”
“The family is working on it, and they have contacted the funeral home,” Pierce said. “And of course, it was so long ago that they’re trying to make arrangements to get it taken care of.”
Anderson said city engineers were sent to the cemetery to see what could be done. “I hope this time it’ll get taken care of, especially since there is so much interest in it,” he said.
Gravesites are considered private property; however, the city is responsible for maintenance of the cemetery overall. Fields hopes these conversations can help address the severity of the flooding.
Earlier this month, the city installed a new flagpole at Forest Hill. Fields said he is grateful for the additional attention to what some see as a neglected cemetery.
“At this point, I’m trying to just kind of back up a little bit and give them a chance to do some of the things they say they’re going to do,” he said. “At least they put the flag up there. That was one of my complaints.”
Fields, who has run for office twice, says he knows the importance of making sure the community’s concerns are heard by local government. He plans to continue attending city commission meetings to monitor progress on the cemetery and stay informed.
“Just do something. Put the dirt out there. Do something, where it’s city property,” he said. “I know the graves are private property, but where the graves haven’t been bought yet, maybe put some dirt out there. That might remedy some of the problem.”