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Commission OKs 9-1-1 tower on historic cemetery, church to vote Sunday

by David Fleet

July 06, 2011

Hadley Twp.-Arlene Sapian never imagined the property her family donated to the Christ Lutheran Church to expand the congregation's cemetery could be leased for financial gain.

"I would be very disappointed," said Sapian, 92. "Some members (of the church) have been there four or five generations. It's a sacrilege what they are doing."

In the 1960s, Sapian, along with then husband Cleve Munger, donated a section of their Hadley Road apple orchard to the church.

"If I was still a member of the church, I'd would vote against that 9-1-1 tower going in there."

Sapian won't be voting on Sunday, but members of the Christ Lutheran Church will have their say on the future of the historic church cemetery.

By a 6-0 vote on Tuesday night, the Hadley Township Planning Commission approved an application by Lapeer County Emergency Management Services for permission to construct a 250-foot self-supported 9-1-1 tower, concrete shelter, 60-by-60 foot fenced compound and access road on the northwest corner of Fox Lake Road and Hadley roads. The tower will be constructed on a portion of the Christ Lutheran Church Cemetery property.

Commission members Ron Shoemaker, Tim Moore, David Ivory, Jennifer VanDam, Robert Hartwig and Glenn Walters voted yes. Commissioner Elwyn Brandt abstained since he is a current member of the Christ Lutheran Church.

Lapeer County Central Dispatch Director Vic Martin made the tower proposal to more than 50 area residents who attended the meeting.

"The site selected is one of the highest elevations in the county," said Martin. "The southern areas of Lapeer County have had some coverage issues with regards to the 9-1-1 area."

The property is at an elevation of about1,130 feet. Martin said that communication problems have plagued Hadley, Metamora and Almont. To rectify this problem, four towers are planned for the southern section of the county, including the Brocker Road area.

"Our biggest concern is the use of mutual aid with other communities—the new towers will be a major plus for several areas of Lapeer County," he said.

Funding for the project, which should begin later this summer, will come from a .75 millage approved by Lapeer County voters in August 2009.

Martin added that state land, which surrounds much of the cemetery site, has been considered; however, engineers from Motorola determined the cemetery site to be ideal. Martin added that a lease agreement with Christ Lutheran Church was still under consideration. He would not comment on any financial matters that may be pending.

For the past 63 years, Mary Alice Seelbinder has been a member of the Christ Lutheran Church.

"You wish to put a 250-foot tower on a private cemetery?" she asked the commission on Tuesday night. "Consider the historical significance— it's a Christian burial site dating back to the 1830s. For that matter, we can't guarantee there are no Native Americans buried there. There are a few graves that we don't know the names of the people, we cannot guarantee they are not Native Americans. It's desecrating the cemetery."

According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the U.S. government does not have the right to disturb Native American graves or their dead because it has not been granted by any treaty.

"We have a Christian responsibility to the (neighbors) nearby, too, it's a beautiful location—it's not the place for a tower. There's state property nearby," she added.

"I know there's a need for that tower, but there's residential (property) on all four sides. We are a small, struggling church, we are not totally strapped financially..We have been here 153 years and this would be a step away from separation of church and state. If we stick to the salvation of souls, we'll be fine."

Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Kelly Todd, who attended the public hearing, had a few different ideas regarding the tower.

"I believe as a matter of township safety, that it's an absolute must we have the 9-1-1 tower," said Todd. "Not because I want it in the cemetery, but it's best for the community. And not just for our homes to be saved from fire, but for rescue as well. It could mean your loved one just died."

Todd said the congregation will have a vote on Sunday to accept or reject the lease from Lapeer County.

"There's no known Native Americans buried there," he said. "There's more property for a cemetery behind the church on Hadley Road. That cemetery will last another 500 years."