Dare County Airport Authority ponders relocation of gravesites

Published 10:54 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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Local resident Juanita Wescott gave Dare County Airport Authority members at their August meeting a lengthy and extremely detailed history lesson.

Providing photographs, anecdotes and short narratives, Wescott provided considerable information about people and events important to Dare County dating as far back as the early 1800s. Many were her ancestors and some are interred on Dare County Regional Airport property in Manteo.

Although the airport is more than 80 years old, some of the graves are older, dating back to the 1800s.

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Wescott concluded her presentation with a comment that she has enough information to establish a museum and could relate a thousand stories.

“I could tell you a thousand more stories, but not today,” she said. “I am asking that you not move our ancestors. They were important people to the history of Dare County. ”

Wescott’s request and appearance at Wednesday’s meeting was in response to DCAA asking Dare County commissioners for permission to relocate the graves in the small Wescott Cemetery to another location, most likely Roanoke Island Memorial Gardens Cemetery which is owned by DCAA. The 50 by 80 foot plot is surrounded by a small white picket fence near the airport terminal building and adjacent to Runway 5/23.

Deemed a safety violation, the site is the final resting place of at least four known individuals: Thos. Fitzpatrick, Charles D. Wescott, John Wescott and Lovie D. Wescott along with several unnamed grave markers.

This is not the first time DCAA members have considered relocating the graves. It was discussed in March of 2021 and at least once prior to that. Since then the area has seen an increase in traffic and has been noted as a violation of current Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

Following Wescott’s presentation, DCAA Chairman Charlie Davidson commented that he was not aware of some of the history presented and thanked her for it adding that most of the known airport history is from WWII and later.

He went on to say “Any process for any of the options on gravesites would be transparent and open to anyone. It will not be taken lightly and will not be done quickly. We are just starting the process but it is something we can work on together.”

Later in the meeting DCAA members returned to a discussion of the options open to them, including the benefits of leaving them in place with different type markers.

Following the meeting, airport director Stacy Ambrose advised that relocation is governed by North Carolina law and that several steps are involved. Among them are having a research group conduct a ground penetrating radar survey of the cemetery plot and surrounding area to determine what and who is there. Background research, cemetery field investigations, notification to next of kin and documented findings are also part of the process.

“It doesn’t make sense to move them if we can keep them there,” Ambrose added. “We will need to review the Airport Layout Plan and check with our engineer to make sure 20 years down the road something won’t be in the way if we modify the apron or move the terminal. Other airports have faced similar circumstances.”

Other business for the evening included a report by Ambrose on airport activity, fuel sales, hangar rentals and landing fees as well as the impact of recent air tour price changes.

DCAA members also heard a request from a United Parcel Service of America, Inc. representative asking for temporary access to the area adjoining UPS property during planned expansion of the Customer Center on Etheredge Road. Access will be for construction equipment along with some of the work removing several pine trees near the property line. Once all permits are secured, work could start as early as September or October.

Ambrose was directed to check with the airport engineer to make sure all activity is outside the 250 foot runway object free area.

DCAA members also approved permanent rules and regulations for dealing with abandoned vehicles and approved minutes from the June 28 meeting.

During closing member comments Davidson pointed out that there are two vacant seats on the Airport Authority, and Wally Overman said a flyover is being considered for November 16 during the display of The Wall That Heals at The Soundside Event Site in Nags Head.