Last month a skull was found emerging from the washed-out bank of a creek that forms the edge of the historic African-American burying ground, Brewer Hill Cemetery.
It was the latest symptom of erosion damage at the cemetery, located next to the National Cemetery off West Street in Annapolis. But now work is underway intended to resolve the problem.
On Sept. 3, a skull was found on the bank of the creek. Annapolis police responded and the skull was sent to the Maryland Office of the State Medical Examiner, where it was determined the skull was “ancient," said Sgt. Amy Miguez, city police spokesman.
The skull is expected to be returned to be re-buried.
When Hyatt Commercial built the Severn Bank building at Westgate Circle around 2006 it entered into an agreement with the Brewer Hill Cemetery to use a 200- plus foot section of the property along the ravine to install water runoff treatment structures to help alleviate the problem.
But the agreement stipulated no graves or remains could be disturbed during that work.
“When we started work we quickly ran into graves. And we did what we could do under the circumstances,” Hyatt president Alan Hyatt said.
“Now 15 years later it looks like it didn’t hold up.”
Substantial channel erosion has continued according to an Oct. 8 city report summarizing the issue. Last fall the Brewer Hill caretakers provided the city with photos and video of headstones in the path of the stormwater and reported unmarked graves were also in and around the channelized areas.
In May, Hyatt met with city officials and committed to fund the design of alternative fixes to remediate the problem. Preliminary plans were sent to the city in August for review.
Alderman Rob Savidge, chairman of the City Council environmental matters committee, has expressed concerns about the city having to take on the financial burden to fix the situation. He put the subject on the agenda for the committee meeting Wednesday.
He learned from city staff the city is apparently off the hook but there are more design, planning and public works approvals required before work begins..
“A lot of my concerns were addressed. It sounds like there is not an expense to the city and Mr. Hyatt is cooperating.”
He said the latest proposal, though far from final is to extend a pipe some 200 feet from the current outfall just off West St. It would be laid atop the current stream bed to avoid disturbing surrounding soils and any graves. He said the city public works staff has requested a plunge pool be added to slow flow coming out of the pipe.
“From my nonengineering view, we might have to do everything above ground to avoid running into gravesites. We are working hard trying to come up with another angle to help with a solution.”
Before any work could proceed a State Highway Administration archaeological survey will be done. SHA is involved because the existing stormwater pipe that gushes downstream carving out the streambed is from under a state road, West St. A formal request for that survey was sent to state officials from the city early this month.
In the early 1990’s the late civic leader George Phelps, who had served as president of the Brewer Hill Cemetery Association, was walking along the low end of the historic African-American cemetery off West Street.
Then he turned to climb back up the hill from the creek separating Brewer Hill from the neighboring Federal Cemetery.
“And the ground just opened up. It almost swallowed me up,” he told The Capital in 2007.