Happy ending to cemetery clearing story

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

You wouldn’t notice the cemetery if you didn’t know the area well, but it is still there. Tombstones dating back two centuries in some cases are usually overgrown with brush at the location.

The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative crew at the intersection of Rock Mountain Lane and Point Lookout Road in Crimora wasn’t aware of what was beneath the brush, either. They were on hand to clear the area because it is adjacent to power lines used by the electric cooperative.

Neighbor Joseph Tombs tried to prevent what some would view as an unfortunate desecration of the gravesites. He wasn’t successful this time, but this story does have a happy ending.

“I was pleased to receive a very positive phone call from John Coffey at SVEC last night. He assured me that his organization had every intention of working to correct this problem,” said Tombs, who had forwarded a copy of a letter addressed to Coffey, the vice president of engineering and operations at the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Myron Rummel, the president of the cooperative, and Shawn Hildebrand, the co-op’s manager of public relations, detailing his concerns about the recent brush-clearing operation to The Augusta Free Press yesterday afternoon.

I got in touch with Hildebrand mid-afternoon to learn more about what the SVEC was doing to address the issue withTombs. Hildebrand said then that it might be the end of the day today before I heard back, but he was back to me this morning to let me know that the situation was being resolved.

“When we got the e-mail from Mr. Tombs, we went ahead and sent into action an investigation to see what happened and to see how we could possibly resolve the matter,” Hildebrand told me this morning.

According to Tombs, the SVEC work crew had set up at the location at the Rock Mountain Lane-Point Lookout Road intersection Sunday morning. An attempt was made to contact the electric co-op through the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, Tombs said, to let the company know about the presence of the cemetery at the location, though a promised return call from the deputy with whom he had made contact never came.

Monday morning, “We saw the tractor still parked on top of the cemetery and a pair of crew members in an idling truck nearby, ready to resume work,” Tombs said. “My wife spoke with the crew members and was informed that they had heard nothing of the previous day’s communications with the electric co-op. One of the crew members admitted to having seen the headstones they were running over, and the other crew member maintained that he had never run over a cemetery in 20 years.”

Another phone call to the co-op about what was going on seemed to hit another dead end, and led Tombs to detail his frustrations in the letter that he forwarded to me.

A day later, Tombs seems pleased that the electric cooperative has acknowledged its error and taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

“As a first step, Mr. Coffey’s crews will be cleaning up the cut brush they left behind at the cemetery and adding the site to their maps so that this does not happen again,” Tombs said.

Hildebrand shared similar good feelings regarding the final outcome.

“We worked with Mr. Tombs to see exactly what he was looking for from us that would be fair to both parties involved. We take some responsibility, but at the same time, it was an area that was a little overgrown. Which doesn’t excuse the action at all, but all we can do is just make it better moving forward.”


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