Prince William County seeks to relocate cemetery to build new fire station

Some people are alarmed in Prince William County because officials want to dig up a cemetery and build a new fire station in its place. The Board of County Supervisors got an earful about it at a public hearing Tuesday.

The board wants to build a new Coles District Volunteer fire station in Manassas right next to the old one because the current one has to stay up and running during construction.

But right next to the current fire station is a small cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s. There are over a dozen gravesites in this small wooded area and few are visibly marked.

The county is proposing to relocate the gravesites to a more appealing and dignified area not far from its current spot. But descendants of the families buried here believe there has to be another plan that would work.

The fire station here has been in operation for nearly 40 years and fire officials said they need a new station that is more modern, and with the way that the current station is designed, it hampers firefighters' ability to get to their destination.

"This current building has exceeded its life expectancy," said Prince William County Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee. "It's a station that has been added onto. There are apparatus bays that we have emergency units that respond out from the back of the building and it's just not good for our response time capabilities."

Some of the family members of the deceased who remain here are outraged and they don't want them to be moved.

"If these were graves were of more historical or cultural importance, our feeling is that this interment would not even be a consideration," said Susan Tansill, who has family buried at the cemetery. "Where is the line drawn when those buried are described as insignificant enough to be dug up and reburied elsewhere?"

"I would prefer that they not be moved unless there can be demonstration that there's a compelling public interest for this interment," said Bill Olson of the Prince William County Historical Commission.

Fire officials said that their goal is to be out of the station in about a minute and to be at their destinations in at about four minutes.

"Our objective is to get our fire and rescue personnel to the emergency scene as quickly and safely as possible," said Chief McGee. "The option that we're proposing gives us that ability."

They believe this new fire station will help them achieve this because the road that lies in front of the current station actually hampers their ability to get out because of the way that it is designed and also because of the traffic lights.

The fire chief said they did look at other construction plans, but they were more expensive than the one that is on the table. It is estimated to cost more than $10 million.