Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lambert Readies for Graves Project $1 Million Allotted to Start Court Battle

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lambert Readies for Graves Project $1 Million Allotted to Start Court Battle

Article excerpt

The Lambert Airport Commission earmarked $1 million Wednesday to begin the court battle to remove 9,000 bodies from a cemetery east of the runways.

A court must approve the removal of bodies under these circumstances. In all, Lambert expects to pay $42 million to remove and rebury the remains from the Washington Park Cemetery just north of Interstate 70.

The Federal Aviation Administration is reimbursing the airport for 80 percent of the cost of the project. The FAA wants the hill where the cemet

ery lies leveled so planes can land and take off without obstruction.

This is the second phase of the project. In 1993 and 1994, the airport removed 2,800 bodies to make way for the MetroLink light rail.

Problems plagued that removal project. An archaeologist took dozens of bodies and held them until he was paid. He broke off bones and pried out teeth from hundreds of other bodies, saying he was doing research. A state regulator made light of the diggings by climbing into a casket and holding a mock funeral.

Airports Director Leonard Griggs has vowed that this time such mistakes will not occur. He said spring is the earliest workers could begin removing the bodies. The $1 million will help pay for legal and start-up costs.

"This is not for any actual grave removals," Griggs said.

In November, the city filed suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court for permission to remove the bodies. Circuit Judge Harry Stussie, the same judge who gave permission to remove the first set of bodies, will set guidelines the airport must follow in handling the remains.

Lambert spent two years in court last time to get permission. Stussie said that much of that case involved the airport gaining control of the property. The controversy surrounding the previous treatment of the remains could prolong the court proceedings this time. …

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