COVENTRY TWP.: Phil and Bess Ratcliff thought they had found a prime location for their gravesite along a road inside Holy Cross Cemetery.
That was 25 years ago, when they bought three plots for $250 each.
Today, the married couple of 60 years is worried that family members won’t have the convenience of a short walk to their burial site because the road has been closed by flooding. Adding to their concern is the uncertainty of when the road will be reopened.
“I was told that it would be reopened in a year to 18 months, or when the money is available. I picked that spot 25 years ago because it was close to the road,” said Bess Ratcliff, 79. “We bought these plots in good faith that we would be able to walk a short distance to the grave. Now, it seems like you have to walk a mile to get to it.”
The cemetery, off Waterloo Road, is part of the Diocese of Cleveland’s Catholic Cemeteries Association. The association’s president, Andrej Lah, apologized to the Ratcliffs via telephone and in a form letter to “Catholic Cemeteries Family” dated Aug. 17, 2011, for “any aggravation that you experienced as a result of the road washout at Holy Cross Cemetery in Akron.”
In the letter, Lah says that the washout, which occurred last year, is the result of “the City of Akron’s upstream development, coupled with the city’s failure and alarming negligence in appropriately planning for stormwater runoff. As a result of the city’s failure to address this issue, at every rainfall Holy Cross Cemetery experiences tens of thousands of gallons of water rushing through its waterways. This damaging stormwater runoff has twice eroded this section of road, and as a result, the CCA must address the issue.”
Akron Service Director Rick Merolla said the letter’s harsh portrayal of the city’s role in the situation surprised him. He said he is willing to meet with cemetery representatives to discuss a remedy.
Merolla acknowledged there have been flooding problems in the Brewster Creek drainage area, where the cemetery is located. He said last year’s heavy rainfall exacerbated flooding problems throughout the city and county and that the Brewster Creek area was hit hard.
“That is a very low-lying area, and there was more runoff last year because of the heavy rain. The amounts of rain that we got were the big culprit in all of this,” Merolla said. “Although the cemetery is private property, we are willing to send engineers out to take a look to see if we can give them some advice. We would also be willing to explore whether there might be a joint solution.”
Last year, the Brewster Creek tributary in Akron triggered major flooding problems in South Akron and Coventry Township near the cemetery. The tributary flows from east to west between Interstate 277 and Swartz Road, passes under Glenmount Avenue, flows under I-277 and empties into the main stem of Brewster Creek. From there, it flows through Holy Cross Cemetery, under South Main Street and turns south to cross under I-277 before emptying into the Tuscarawas River.
Lah, who is encouraged by Merolla’s offer, estimates it will cost about $300,000 to solve the flooding problem and re-establish the road in the cemetery. The association has already spent more than $336,000 on the stormwater issue. That work included expanding water retention basins, adding a heavy concrete culvert and regrading the landscape. The association is part of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland but operates independently.
Once the association can remove and replace inadequate stormwater pipe and restore a natural streambed to help keep the stormwater back from the roadway (all part of the $300,000 estimate), a single lane will be established where the road is washed out, near the Ratcliffs’ gravesite.
Bess and Phil Ratcliff, 86, discovered the road had been closed last July, when they made a trip to see the headstone they had purchased and had placed at their gravesite, which includes a plot for one of their two daughters. Since then, they have been trying to get cemetery personnel to make a firm promise on when the road will be open.
In their trips to the cemetery, the Ratcliffs have seen the road covered with several inches of dirt, which is now covered with grass. That grassy area blends with the burial area. The only indications of a road are signs at both ends that read: “Road closed due to flooding” and the concrete barricades that keep vehicles out.
“We didn’t put $8,000 into a stone that nobody can see,” Bess Ratcliff said of the black granite, upright marker that marks the three-plot gravesite. The engraving on the stone faces the closed road.
The Ratcliffs visit the cemetery at least once a week, hoping to see that work is being done to reopen the road. They said they will not be satisfied until the road is open. They are prayerfully hopeful it will open before the gravesites are needed.
“Death is something we can’t control, so who’s to say we will still be here when that road is reopened?” Bess Ratcliff asked rhetorically. “We just want to give our loved ones the peace of mind and convenience that we intended to give them when we bought the plots 25 years ago.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.