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Lord Ridge Cemetery out of space; dead will travel 13 miles

The Lord Ridge Cemetery is a landmark in Belize City. Situated at the western entrance of the Old Capital, it is the final resting place for City residents who have died in the past one hundred and twenty four years. But with a growing population there is now a serious problem of grave space. The Belize City Council has identified a new site comprising twenty point seven acres of land that can accommodate well over twelve thousand grave sites but it is far from the city. News Five's Marion Ali went on a tour of the Lord Ridge Cemetery and the site of the proposed burial ground. She has a report on the transition and the existing problems at both locations.

Marion Ali, reporting

The Lord Ridge Cemetery where Belize City residents have interned their loved ones since 1886 has run out of space. In fact, the Belize City Council says there are so few spaces available that if they don't act swiftly, there may be a crisis soon.

Dion Leslie & Phillip Willoughby

Dion Leslie, Councilor, Belize City Council

"Right now on paper we only have twelve spaces of burial space left at this cemetery. That's apart from those people that want to be buried in their families' tombs or what not, that's still allowed. There's no more space here, we're filled to capacity."

Marion Ali

"But there is a proposed solution to the problem of grave space. And the only thing city residents will have to get acquainted with is the fact that your dearly departed will be resting further away from you - much further away - in fact, here at mile thirteen on the Western Highway."

John Bowden

John Bowden, Senior Public Health Officer, Ministry of Health

"The lowest level of this land is actually nineteen feet above sea level and the highest is twenty four feet. So we're looking at very compact land and very suitable land for burial itself."

Marion Ali

"It won't sink?"

John Bowden

"No, it's solid land. We have only been using the space underground. We have to remember that there is space above ground and as a result of that we have actually drafted legislation to support this new method of burial."

Karen Williams, Principal Planner, Lands Dept.

Karen Williams

"We normally look at planning housing sub-divisions for the living and we are going to be project in planning the sub-division for our deceased Belizeans, so it follows basically the same principles. You come in, you make sure there is proper drainage, proper streets in place and the design of the parcel itself, we need to ensure that those are properly designed, that there's any other facilities like parking or of there is going to be chapel, all of those things that they're properly accounted for from the planning stage which is at this point."

The collaborative effort among the City Council, the Ministries of Works, Health and Natural Resources will encompass designing and planning to ensure that contractors adhere to important building codes to avoid the problems that exist at the Lord's Ridge Cemetery.

Dion Leslie

"The conditions not fit for the dead, worse not fit for the living to visit your loved ones in conditions like this,"

Philip Willoughby, Deputy Mayor

"Concerns from the residents in this area are that one, the smell, the flooding of the area because of the filling of the cemetery that has occurred has created an unbalanced level in the streets so when it rains all the water flows in that direction."

Marion Ali

"But already on our first tour of the area the media encountered growing pains. The access road, which is about a quarter mile from the cemetery is under water. How much under water? Enough to prevent vehicles from entering. But according to officials this problem will be resolved in due course."

Karen Williams

"As we noted a lot of the water at the front there is basically because the water is not draining off properly so to go in, put in the drainage at the beginning, get the streets properly built up according to the Ministry of Works standards and then we can come in at the back here."

But while the project offers much sturdier ground than the newly expanded Lord's Ridge, transportation will be an issue for poorer families who have to bury their dead. But Councilor Leslie says the Council will take this into consideration with a view to possibly offering packages to families. With a growing population and the space for real estate getting more scarce daily, it is comforting to know that there is a new location that will be the final resting place for many who depart this life over the next thirty years. Marion Ali for News Five.

Councilor Leslie says if the Council runs into problems before the new site is ready, they will simply have to find more space at the Lord's Ridge Cemetery. So far, sixty thousand dollars have been allocated to start. The only other cemetery within proximity and accessibility to city residents is the privately owned Homeland Memorial near mile eight on the Western Highway.

Channel 5

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CitCo unveils plans for new Belize City cemetery at Mile 13, Western Highway

As first reported in March, the Lords Ridge Cemetery in Belize City is quickly running out of space for new burials.

And while plans have been discussed for new types of burial services and the cemetery crew continues to scramble to find spaces here and there in the existing 21-acre plot, the ultimate aim of the Belize City Council was to find new space. The problem with that is that there are no suitable spaces available within Belize City limits.

This morning, Amandala and other media houses toured a 20-acre site located a half mile in from the Western Highway at Mile 13, the edge of the new village of Western Paradise.

The access road to the area was this morning washed out in places and reporters and public officials had to wade in with pants rolled up – but the Council, in conjunction with the Ministries of Works, Health and Natural Resources, who handled the land transaction through Acting Mayor Phillip Willoughby, promises a “world-class” planned cemetery at the site in the medium to long range term. (Councilor for Public Health, Wayne Usher, whose portfolio includes Lords Ridge, is ill in the hospital.)

First, though, they continue to contend with Lords Ridge, which has been given numerous reprieves since our first report. Today we noticed new graves built on the filled-in portion next to Partridge Street Extension showing signs of cracking. According to the Acting Mayor, the graves in question were not built by the Council’s workers, but they will nonetheless endeavour to fix them. The clay material used to fill in the area in the three to four months prior to March of this year, has not “settled in” enough to hold the graves together; nonetheless, a total of 429 persons have been buried on the site.

Area residents tell Amandala that because of the poor settlement, the area of Partridge Street Extension up to Vernon Street experiences noxious smells, and people have trouble getting in and out of their homes. A few residents came out in sight of the media cameras and implored the public officials to do something about it, and so the Ministry of Works will erect a retaining wall to block off the cemetery area.

The new cemetery site promises fewer headaches in terms of burial and settlement. According to Senior Public Health Officer and member of the team scouting for burial sites, John Bodden, the 20-acre property at Mile 13 is no less than 19 feet above sea level at its lowest point, and 24 feet at its highest, and is part of savannah forest areas where the soil is more compact and sturdy.

Karen Williams, principal planner for the Lands Department, Ministry of Natural Resources, says that the new cemetery will be planned just like a housing subdivision, and according to the Acting Mayor, it even will be subject to building codes laid out by the Central Building Authority.

And for those who might balk at the idea of traveling that far out of Belize City for a funeral, it has been suggested that a chapel be built at the site.

The reality, according to City Councilor for Public Relations, Dion Leslie, is that the Council had little choice considering the plots available within City limits, all swamp and providing little of the advantages of the Mile 13 plot. Councilor Leslie says that a nearby 20-acre plot is also being looked at to expand the potential site.

The access road to the cemetery site is expected to be fixed by the Ministry of Works and any remaining drainage issues sorted out before planning and surveying begin.

There is no timeline issued for the completion of the new cemetery, which is expected to last up to 40 years depending on the amount of deaths occurring, and no financial plan presented thus far.

Plans to introduce cremation, above-ground burials and mausoleums in Belize City are currently being reviewed by the Solicitor General’s Office.


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Even Cemeteries Die

The Lord's Ridge Cemetery is one of three cemeteries in the City's history and has been around from the late 1800's. But now the already over populated burial site is said to have limited burial spaces left - to be exact - only 12. It might sound alarming for those of you who are wondering - where will your loved ones be put to rest?

But according to the City Council they are working on a new plan to relocate the Cemetery a ways up the Western Highway. Monica Bodden has the details.

Monica Bodden, Reporting
The Lord Ridge Cemetery is where many city residents have interred their loved ones. The graveyard has been in used for one hundred and twenty four years. But the Cemetery has run out of burial spaces - in fact figures show there are only 12 more available.

Deon Leslie - Councilor, Belize City Council
"The last figures we have gotten is that the cemetery only has 12 more spaces available. We know that if we try hard enough with Mr. Neil and the crew that works with the cemetery will be able to find more than 12 but that's just the worst case scenario number that we are working with right now. Over the past year we have invested close to over two hundred thousand dollars in filling additional spaces and we are at capacity right now and with all the engineers and the technical people, they are saying it does not make any sense to continue filling."

And so, there will be a new resting place for your loved ones - since the Cemetery will be moving to Mile 13 on the Western highway.

Deon Leslie - Councilor, Belize City Council
"We looked all over the City from 5 miles on both Highways coming down, with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources and we could not find anything suitable enough, that's why we had to move to mile 13 and they found the best suitable land at mile 13 and that's where we are planning to move the cemetery up that side now."

According to Leslie, their plan is to make the new graveyard a first class Cemetery for Belize City Residents.

Deon Leslie - Councilor, Belize City Council
"The Ministry of Natural Resources are working on a plan, basically a drawing, a setup of how it will be done because of how they are approaching it, it's going to be like similar to a community development. We want to approach it that same way and as the Deputy has said, we want it to make it a first class cemetery for Belizean residents, so we are looking at. We don't have a final set time but we have everything in place at this moment I believe. There is the Acting City Admin and people from the Ministry of Work at the site going over to see what we have to do to start within probably the next week just to get the project started."

Thousand dollars will be the initial funding to jump start the new cemetery.

Phillip Willoughby - Acting Mayor
"60 thousand dollars was procured through the various government ministries who were a part of the meeting in the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Finance, Local Government and the Belize City Council. 50 Thousand dollars will be the initial founding to start the project to kick off the new cemetery, in addition to that what was also discuss at the meeting was as you can see to the most northern point here at the Lord Ridge Cemetery, the height of the cemetery is much higher than the streets and the yards, over to the extreme right, so a remedial wall or fence will be looked at by the Ministry of Works and that will come into play."

According to Willoughby - the Belize City Council along with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works will be addressing the concerns of residents in the Lord Ridge Cemetery Area - along with all other remedial works that need to be done.

There isn't any final date as to when the new Cemetery will be opened. - Many might be wondering -in the meantime - where will your loved ones be interred?

Deon Leslie - Councilor, Belize City Council
"We were just using 12 spaces as a worst case scenario, something to just getting us pushing behind but, they are maybe more than 12 spaces and with the people that work here they have been working miracles for the past months and they will be able to find spaces I don't think we will run into an immediate problem."

Works on the new cemetery are expected to start as early as the next two weeks. ...

Channel 7

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December 01, 2010

With only a few grave spaces left at the Lord's Ridge Cemetery, the City Council is forced to make moves to open the new proposed burial site at Mile 13 on the Western Highway. This morning we caught up with the Councilor for Public Health, Wayne Usher who told us more.

Wayne Usher; Councilor for Public Health 

"The planning is more in earnest now to get the Mile 13 cemetery ready for as early as next week to have burials at the new cemetery."

Maria Novelo, Reporter

Can you tell us about some of the work that has been done?

Wayne Usher

"We have done a lot of work with the entrance and the exit into and out of the area. The road is now accessible in all types of weather. It's an all weather road that we have put in. it is still left for some other works to be done in terms of the drainage and we have already put down the culverts to assist with the drainage in and out of the area. So now if there is a call to bury someone there today we can now do that at Mile 13."

The project was unveiled in July of this year and since then residents of Hattieville have complained about having a Belize City cemetery within their space, without consultation. Usher says he has had an informal meeting with the Chairman of the community and believes that an amicable solution will be met. Burials at the Mile 13 cemetery should begin as early as next week, and the work to prepare the site for burials as well as overall landscaping will be ongoing.

Wayne Usher

"We will have what we have a soft opening I think sometime next week and then we would want to invite the media for an official type opening at a later date. I must say that just at this point that you and I are talking the site is ready for burial. The aesthetics, the road work and all that will be ongoing, that is not quite defined yet in terms of on the ground. We have it on paper but we have not reached the stage yet where we have definitive areas to show you but we know that it is going to happen. So that work is ongoing and in process."

The proposed fees were not stated in our interview but it is said to be a bit higher so as to cover operational costs.


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CitCo to raise grave space fees

Seven Belize City-based undertakers ("funeral directors," in popular parlance) have written the Mayor of Belize City, Zenaida Moya-Flowers to object to the Belize City Council's proposed policies regarding the new cemetery at Mile 13 on the Western Highway, which is set to replace the Lords Ridge Cemetery as the public burial ground because the cemetery can hold no more graves.

From almost the moment that it was unveiled in July, the project has come under fire, most notably from residents of Hattieville, Belize District, who complained about having a "Belize City" cemetery within their space, without apparent consultation.

Now the undertakers - Luis Belisle, Knox Arnold, Albert Leiva, David Coye, Marlon Jenkins, Kurk Dennison and a Mr. Longsworth - charge that the Council is "venturing into the area of private enterprise" by apparently deciding to operate the new cemetery on its own - and say that the Council "will not attain value-added nor increased efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery [with the cemetery] primarily because it is not an area of focus [core competency] for the Belize City Council´┐Ż."

They go on to say that the Council is currently "hard-pressed" and "challenged" in the areas of garbage collection, city drainage and street maintenance as it is, and "insist" that the cemetery be left to them, the private operators, with CitCo as a facilitator.

While the letter writers say they support any initiative by the Council that gets it a sustainable revenue stream and betters the quality of living for the citizens and effectiveness of Council operations, they object to the proposed new fees as likely to cause public outcry due to citizens being unable to pay any increase in grave fees.

The proposed fees as chronicled in the letter are $100 for grave spaces for babies at the new cemetery as opposed to $30 at Lords Ridge; $250 to open a new grave (previously $75 at Lords Ridge); $500 for re-opened graves (previously between $50 and $100) and $1,000 for tombs and vaults ($1,075 was charged at Lords Ridge).

The funeral directors charge that Councilor for Public Health, Wayne Usher, was "very heavy-handed and arrogant" in his approach to the directors at a meeting held on November 9, 2010, being "absolutely disrespectful" toward them and demonstrating a "total lack of transparency" that, for the directors, "raises some serious questions about his [Usher's] own agenda behind this venture". They say they will conduct their "own private investigation [now and in the future] to ensure that [the councilors] do not profit from this 'misconceived venture.'"

We were able to reach undertaker, Knox Arnold, JP, for comment late today. He told us that to date, the Council has not responded to their letter of November 17, 2010.

According to Arnold, he understands that the Council is "under pressure," but maintains that the proposed fee structure puts poor people at a disadvantage. He told Amandala that the proposed cemetery is said to be too close to the burial ground in Hattieville, which he claimed was the source of village residents' complaints.

Arnold asked whether the Council could not find suitable property within Belize City. He told us, after we informed him that the Council has long lamented about the lack of suitable space for a public cemetery within City limits, that going to Mile 13 will involve additional expenses that some may not be able to afford.

He cited the case of a funeral he conducted in the village of Maskall on the Old Northern Highway sometime ago, where he was charged $100 per car for transportation to the funeral site, and said that they may have to pursue a cheaper option, likely buses.

This evening, we spoke to Councilor Usher on the Amandala compound. He began our interview by noting that he became aware of the November 17 letter after another media house contacted him. He told us that the charges being made by the undertakers were "frivolous" and that they spoke "out of ignorance."

According to Usher, he will seek legal advice about the fourth paragraph of the letter.

"They insinuate that I am a thief!" Usher told us of the statements in that paragraph. "They want to investigate me; they are making very serious allegations about me, my integrity, and my character´┐Ż but they want me to get into a back and forth with them, and I am above that."

He also denied expressing any attitude of disrespect to the three undertakers present at the November 9 meeting, saying that he has witnesses who can testify to his using what he called a "firm" tone with the undertakers, because "this is a serious issue and there is no time to joke, no time to waste."

Usher revealed that earlier this year he had recommended to Cabinet that the undertakers be left to find means of burial, but says Belmopan overruled him and directed that the search begin for a new cemetery.

He also showed us documents detailing the search in Belize City, coordinated with the Ministries of Health, Natural Resources and Works, which was ultimately fruitless because none of the properties looked at were suitable.

The Councilor told us that the oft-reprieved Lords Ridge has apparently finally reached the end of the road, with just a handful of new spaces now available, which are likely to run out by this coming weekend.

Burials at the Mile 13 cemetery should begin as early as next week, and the work to prepare the site for burials as well as overall landscaping will be "ongoing."

Regarding the proposed fee structure, Usher told us that at this point it is just that, "proposed." However, he maintained that the Council can no longer afford to "subsidize" prices for grave spaces at the current fees of $75 for children and $150 for adults, particularly given the increase in prices for materials to make graves and a general rise in the cost of living. The fees, he said, were arrived at after consultation with the cemetery keeper and others familiar with how much it costs, including the late Russell Neal, former caretaker and manager of Lords Ridge.

For the 200 burial spaces at the new "ridge" opened up at Lords Ridge last year with the assistance of the Ministry of Works, $135,000 was spent, averaging out to between $500 and $700 per grave space, yet the Council charges substantially less to use them. By contrast, Homeland Memorial, with whom the Council has a stand-by arrangement for new graves, charges $600 per grave space (and the Council will continue to charge its current fees there and at the new cemetery until the upgraded fees are passed, Usher told us).

Belizeans must now balance our tradition and culture with regard to burials with the pressing economic and social reality, Usher said, adding that the Council's management of the new cemetery was according to the laws of Belize (Section 30 of the Belize City Council Act and Section 26 of the Public Health Act) and not about making a profit, but about recovering its costs.

Councilor Usher also delineated the responsibility of the undertakers, saying that some of them use Council workers to build graves at the cemetery, which they are not by law to do; the Council alone is responsible for building graves. He added that the new building codes and standards to be put into place will restore order and ensure the integrity of new graves. The undertakers will be responsible for all other aspects of the funeral service, and will even be allowed to use the new, non-denominational chapel at Mile 13 for services without cost, but their business will not be taken away from them.

Plans for alternative means of burial at Lords Ridge continue to be reviewed by the Office of the Solicitor General.


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Where will the dead sleep?

For months City Council advised that there were only a few spaces available at the Lord Ridge Cemetery. Following Tuesday night's double murder, there will be even less if any remaining. It's a problem that has been festering for quite some time. What will Belize City, the municipality with the most monthly recorded deaths, do with its dead? Marion Ali reports on a situation in which time as well as space are both running out and residents in the area of the new burial site are up in arms.

Marion Ali, Reporting

In July the Belize City Council announced that it would, with the approval of the Ministry of Natural Resources, relocate Belize City's burial ground to mile thirteen on the Western Highway. When Councilors Dion Leslie and Philip Willoughby took the media on a tour of the place, its access road was flooded out, the price for each grave spot was not yet worked out, and the residents of Hattieville felt disrespected that they were not consulted about having the graveyard in their community. Work to open the new location was hastened because the overcrowded Lord Ridge Cemetery in Belize City was fast running out of space.

Four and a half months later not much has changed, except that the work has begun to convert the location at mile thirteen into the gravesite and the price has been set. Following a meeting at City Hall today on the topic, Councilor responsible for public cemeteries, Wayne Usher, said that plans are going ahead to open the site very soon and while the price per grave spot will more than triple, Councilor Usher says it is up to grieving families to prioritize.

Wayne Usher, City Councilor

"Tomorrow morning we have our workers going up there to cut even more areas that we'll be using so that we can from the very start have earthen graves on one side, tombs on another side. So we will be working to a plan."

Marion Ali

"What the new price we're looking at?"

Wayne Usher

Wayne Usher

"Two hundred and fifty dollars."

Marion Ali

"For poor families who will tell you pointblank, they can't afford that. What will be your response?"

Wayne Usher

"We will have to keep negotiating with the families and to see if they can find how they can go about that. Maybe the credit unions have burial arrangements. It's traditional for us to, when we have burials, to have a wake. Some people have two nights of wake. So you ask the questions can we afford it. And I say to you maybe if you wanted to have two nights of wake, you only have and then from that other one night, you have the money to pay for the burial space."

In July we also showed you how the access road prohibited small vehicles from entering the site. Today when we visited, the road was filled but there were still some problem areas. But that is not a cause for concern, according to Councilor Usher.

Wayne Usher

"Not with this new site, this new site is already compact. It is land at a higher elevation. We have dug already in that area and found that we can go even deeper with the graves and the integrity of the graves won't be in question because we are proposing as a policy that only the city council will be doing any kind of work at the new cemetery."

Another concern is that if in July the Lord Ridge only had seven new grave spaces left and the new grave yard is still not open, then where is the City Council burying the dead?

Wayne Usher

"We have had to resort to using some of the pathways in the cemetery to be burying people and that is really what we don't want to do. We have major pathway and then we have some auxiliary pathways for you to get from point A to B. We have been using some of the auxiliary pathways which I don't encourage which we don't want but that is the only way we can ensure that you have burials."

Marion Ali

"How much longer will you have to do this until the new one is open?"

Wayne Usher

"We are trying to make sure that by next week we can stop doing that."

But the real controversy over the new gravesite has to do with the actual location, in the Hattieville proper because Hattieville residents do not want Belize City's graveyard in their back yard. But Usher says that was not the view he got some time ago from Hattieville Chairman, Gilberto Domingo, when they spoke a few months ago.

Wayne Usher

"He did not say I totally out of hand reject that and you just get rid of that. He used more accommodating language which that you know what the Cabinet has made this decision; you all have made this decision. We cannot change it but let's see if some accommodation can be made with that would be with an amicable settlement."

Marion Ali

"So where are you in meeting that settlement?"

Wayne Usher

"Well we haven't had any other meeting since then."

Today, however, Hattieville Village Councilor, Wendy Castillo told us something entirely different, and she said her sentiments reflect the majority of the three thousand plus residents of Hattieville.

Wendy Castillo, Village Councilor, Hattieville

Wendy Castillo

"Our Constitution states it. If the minister of lands is to take any piece of land in any community for public use, he has to do the right thing and consult with the council first in writing Marion. That wasn't done. The manner in which this was executed is wrong and up to today, there is no consultation coming from them. It is like they are saying we already made the decision so you guys take it. As local authority, if that's how they want to do things, then why have a village council to run the affairs. It goes against the Village Council Act and that is what governs us and that is what we will hold each and everyone involved in this process to. That is our position but we will represent the people of Hattieville and they have said no and we will do what has to be done."

Marion Ali for News Five.

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