We’re very careful around this area, so it really perplexed, I think, the citizens and the leadership as to why anyone would come in and just trench right through the cemetery. —Jay Aguilar, Willard city planner
WILLARD — A historic pioneer cemetery in Willard boasts a new, unplanned feature along its southwestern edge: a massive trench, dug by a property owner to gain access to utilities.
The trench, 8-feet deep in places, has this city north of Ogden and a nearby property owner at odds. City leaders contend property owner Mark Mackley did not have the proper clearances to dig the trench leading to his property, and nobody knows for sure if any remains were unearthed in the process.
“We’re very careful around this area, so it really perplexed, I think, the citizens and the leadership as to why anyone would come in and just trench right through the cemetery,” city planner Jay Aguilar said Tuesday.
It’s an issue because the bones of old pioneer settlers — and even Native Americans — may be far displaced from their original burial plots.
The first burial was in August 1854, when 5-day-old John Memorial Jr., son of John Memorial (Memory) and Samantha Wells McCrary was laid to rest. He was the first of 150 settlers to be buried here.
In 1923 and 1936, flood waters washed through Willard, even sweeping bodies and tombstones as far west as where I-15 stands today. Many of the recovered remains were later placed in a mass grave believed to be near the center of the cemetery property.
But because of the westward flow of the remains, it’s uncertain if there were any buried by the floods where Mackley dug a north-and-south stretch of the trench in April, Aguilar said.
“I don’t know if because he was working through those processes he felt that he had some sort of approval to go into the area,” Aguilar said. “But he was working through those processes, did not have the appropriate city permits, intruded into the cemetery area and basically was able to get pretty far.”
Mackley, a dentist by trade, maintains he notified the city he was moving forward with the work in April and chalks up what happened to a misunderstanding.
“I hope to have good relations with the people that I’m hoping to live around in the future and hopefully we can work this out,” Mackley said.
Mackley contends in a document he presented to the city that on April 2 he was granted a “UDOT permit, bond and insurance” and contacted Willard City to say he was digging.
On April 5, Mackley’s document notes, he was approached by city officials telling him a city encroachment permit was required and the officials gave him a “verbal stop work order.” And that's where the conflict remains, with an open trench through the cemetery.
Mackley said the city is trying to unfairly charge him for the cost of sewer line construction from Main Street to his property east on 300 North.
Aguilar disputes that claim, saying Mackley would owe more if the city billed him for the entire cost of covering over the trench — which officials maintain he had no permission to dig.
Mackley said he has been trying to build a barn and home in the area because of the beauty of the area. But he doesn’t want to upset residents who have strong feelings about the pioneer heritage of the cemetery. He said he still hopes to resolve what Aguilar called the ongoing matter.
Regardless of what becomes of the trench and Mackley's plans for a home, Aguilar said resolution will likely involve an expert from the state to determine whether any of the dirt that will have to be replaced or removed contains any remains.
“To what point do you continue to think, ‘well there may be remains,’” Mackley questioned. “At some point you have to move forward and continue to live life as well.”