King Cemetery is safe from construction of Georgia Power Co. transmission lines.
Now John R. Wilkins Sr., a descendant of those buried in the .91-acre cemetery, hopes to make a change that will protect all cemeteries in Columbia County.
A judge ruled in October that Georgia Power is not allowed to cut down trees in the cemetery on Wrightsboro Road to construct transmission lines.
That hearing was the result of a petition for declaratory judgement filed by Georgia Power against Wilkins, Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, Brinson Wilkins and Marilyn Cooper – all descendants of those buried in the cemetery.
Confederate soldier George Washington King made his home and built the cemetery in 1891 on property next to Bellevue Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 10 people, including Allen’s great-great-grandfather, who was the county’s tax commissioner in the early 1900s, and Wilkins’ late wife.
The property has changed hands several times since King died, but each sale included an easement for the family to use the cemetery.
The property owner sold an easement to Georgia Power to clear-cut and construct transmission lines across the site.
Some of the cemetery’s stakeholders thought Georgia Power might file a request to condemn the property so they could cut the trees and build the lines, but company spokesman Mark Williams said officials don’t plan to file for condemnation and are instead reviewing alternative locations.
“We are still examining our options, but have not decided yet what we’re going to do,” Williams said.
Wilkins and other descendants named in the suit are happy with the decision that cost them nearly $22,000 in legal fees.
“We’re thrilled,” Allen said. “We’re thrilled that the cemetery is not going to be decimated. Absolutely thrilled that they are not going to touch the trees or the cemetery.
“As long as they don’t touch the trees in the little .9 of an acre, we’re not concerned.”
But Wilkins says he’s not happy with their attorney, who suggests there is no legal recourse for the family to recoup the legal fees.
He’s also concerned for the safety of King Cemetery and all other cemeteries in the county.
The state has a law that, if adopted as a local ordinance, would require a county-issued permit to develop or otherwise disturb property containing a cemetery.
“The law is worthless unless the local municipality adopts it,” Wilkins said. “That (would) protect all cemeteries in Columbia County. It’s a rare instance whenever it comes up. But it is possible with all the growth going on. It’s just something that needs to be done.”
Wilkins has spoken to District 4 Commissioner Bill Morris to consider the ordinance.
Morris said he has referred the matter to county attorney Doug Batchelor for review.
“We are looking at it,” Morris said. “If we do anything, we want it done right.”