Aldermen will clean cemetery

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2001

NATCHEZ – Natchez aldermen voted Tuesday to help clean the Watkins Street Cemetery of debris and overgrown grass and weeds.

&uot;There are vines, Johnson grass and kudzu, and people have dumped stoves and couches in there,&uot;&160;said police chief Willie Huff.

Nearby residents, as well as some whose relatives were buried in the cemetery, crowded into the Natchez council chambers for a public hearing to find solutions to the problem.

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Some acknowledged that a few people have taken the time to maintain their relatives’ gravesites, and local sorority chapters and other concerned citizens have organized to clean the property in the past. &uot;But the area is a disaster now,&uot; said nearby resident Margaret Matthews. &uot;And all kinds of people are there through the night doing a little bit of everything.&uot;

&uot;This has gone on for a long time,&uot;&160;said the Rev. James Stokes. &uot;I won’t tell you the kind of filth that’s out there.&uot;

The board had to declare the almost 100-year-old cemetery a public nuisance – meaning that its poor condition is considered a risk to the public. Otherwise, the city could not spend public dollars to clean up the property.

It will take public works employees and inmate labor about three weeks to clean the property, said public works director Richard Burke.

But those with relatives buried in the cemetery must organize to keep the property clean, since the city could not legally maintain the private cemetery on a regular basis, city officials said.

Huff said he would like to see area churches collect donations to fund cleanup efforts, but Stokes said he has sent letters requesting donations for three years and has received little response.

The board voted to ask Stokes to compile a list of dedicated volunteers that will help keep the cemetery clean and to request that the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture seek grants to help fund future cleanup efforts.

Aldermen voted to place concrete barriers at the back entrance to the cemetery to prevent people from driving through the cemetery to dump trash. They also voted to repair a potholed public street that runs through the cemetery.

In other business, the board voted to approve changes to the city’s sign ordinance.

The Natchez Planning Commission voted on Aug. 16 to recommend the changes, which will increase the size and number of signs businesses can erect. They will also spell out requirements for certain types of signs, such as temporary signs and banners.

&uot;This will reduce the number of variances that have to go before the Zoning Board,&uot;&160;said City Planner David Preziosi.