The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plans to relocate approximately 175 graves from the Gallatin Fossil Plant property next year as part of a proposed coal ash landfill expansion at the site.
In all, six family cemeteries would be affected by the project, which is connected to the settlement of a lawsuit last year between TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) regarding coal ash storage at the power plant.
“Relocation of cemeteries is a very sensitive issue and one that TVA approaches thoughtfully and with great reverence for those interred here and their families,” TVA Project Manager Michael Clemmons said during a virtual public meeting held Nov. 19. “We’ve committed significant resources to study and research these cemeteries in hopes of identifying individual graves and their descendants and learn more about this site and the historic community.”
All of the graves existed prior to TVA’s purchase of the 1,950-acre property at 1499 Steam Plant Rd. in Gallatin in the 1950s.
According to the agency’s research, the majority of the individuals known to be buried in the cemeteries were born between 1839 and 1922 and died between 1901 and 1953. They range in age from less than one year old to approximately 90 years old.
“There may be earlier graves,” TVA archaeologist Steve Cole said. “We just don’t have legible markers or any documentation of who was buried or when for many of (them).
“Some of the graves have headstones, but many do not. Some were marked with plain stones. Some have no marker at all and some of those can be identified by a depression where the ground sinks in a little.”
Of the 44 graves where the person buried could be identified, archeologists were able to identify 19 different families and 1,505 descendants. There are 443 potential relatives still believed to be living across the United States.
Reinterment location not finalized
According to Cole, the Odoms Bend community where the Gallatin Fossil Plant is located is believed to have been settled predominantly by African Americans following the Civil War. Officials also believe that five of the six cemeteries to be relocated could even be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to the information they could contain about the area.
“Any cemetery that is found through this process to be ineligible for the National Register will be promptly and respectfully reinterred at the relocation cemetery,” Cole said. “Graves from those cemeteries that TVA and the Tennessee State Historical Preservation Office agree are eligible for the National Register will undergo some study in a laboratory… so that experts can examine the remains, classify them and reconstruct as much as possible about these people and their community.”
A specific reinterment location in the Gallatin area for all of the burials has not yet been finalized.
Last year, TVA announced it would dig up nearly 12 million cubic yards of coal ash at the Gallatin Fossil Plant as part of the lawsuit settlement with TDEC.
As part of the agreement, coal combustion residuals are required to be removed from an unlined 390-acre ash pond complex on the property. The excavated material must either be placed in a lined, permitted landfill or recycled for use in concrete or other construction materials.
TVA is currently seeking approval from TDEC to expand a landfill on site to store the coal ash in, according to a spokesman for the agency.
All of the necessary regulatory approvals have been obtained for the cemetery relocations. All that remains is court approval for the individual reinterments.
“We realize the cemetery relocation is a very sensitive and challenging subject,” Clemmons said. “Once the relocation is complete, we believe that we will have balanced our commitment to the environment, Gallatin community and the TVA rate payer as well as properly honored and preserved the legacy of the interred and the history of the Odoms Bend community.”