Cheltenham, Md. -- State and County environmental inspectors found no evidence of additional illegal dumping at the Maryland Veteran's Cemetery at Cheltenham after excavating two suspected dump pits with heavy equipment Thursday.
Cemetery officials said waste was removed from the pits before they were covered over after being exposed by WUSA9 and a whistle blower January 1.
Other illegal dumping violations documented by regulators in the wake of WUSA9's reporting were found to have been cleaned up. The cemetery is now in compliance with violation notices and orders issued January 6th.
"The dignity of our veterans is protected," said Maryland Veteran's Affairs Secretary Edward Chow after visiting the site with inspectors.
The findings Thursday appear to bring an end to an episode that began December 30th with the accidental disturbance of at least 56 graves by workers who got a tractor stuck in the mud during a hasty, late-day burial. The incident left many veteran families outraged at how operations were conducted at the cemetery and drew attention to allegations of illegal dumping and unprofessional management. At least 20,000 Maryland veterans are buried at Cheltenham.
January 1st, WUSA9's follow up reporting exposed abandoned vehicles and equipment along with a large pile of plastic construction waste and expanses of bare ground unprotected from erosion within clear view of grave sites on the cemetery's hallowed ground. Two open pits that contained waste including tires, plastic, and a small American flag were seen nearby.
Veteran's Affairs officials said the waste was removed before workers filled in the pits the following day.
After an investigation, Prince George's County's Department of Permitting Inspection and Enforcement cited the cemetery on January 6th with illegal dumping violations and ordered a clean up within 14-days under the threat of hefty fines. An excavation of the suspected dump pits was scheduled.
During Thursday's excavation inspectors found numerous grave marker stones that had been discarded after being replaced by upgraded stones in the cemetery but no evidence of tires or trash was uncovered. The marker stones were characterized as "clean fill" and reburied.
Elsewhere, abandoned vehicles and trash piles were had been removed, and some of the bare ground had been covered by hay to prevent erosion. A truck hauled away a dumpster of waste from the site before the Thursday inspection.
CHELTENHAM CEMETERY TROUBLES TIMELINE
Dec. 30: Outrage sparked when at least 56 graves are disturbed after a tractor gets stuck in mud during a hasty late-day burial.
Dec. 31: As repairs are made, Md. Sec. of Veteran's Affairs Edward Chow apologizes to families for an "unacceptable mistake" and promises a review of cemetery operations.
Jan. 1: Whistleblower alleges illegal dumping and other evidence of sloppy operations at the cemetery. WUSA9 documents waste, including tires, suspected plastic items and a small American flag, dumped in two open pits. Abandoned vehicles and equipment, haphazard piles of construction waste, and suspected uncontrolled sediment on graded ground are also observed within clear view of the cemetery's hallowed burial grounds.
Jan. 2: Spokesman for Veteran's Affairs Secretary Edward Chow promises an investigation and clean up. Chow says the dignity of veterans is protected.
Jan 3: Prince George's County and state officials inspect the cemetery, and find suspected dump pits documented by WUSA9 have been covered over and graded. Officials tape off area and plan for a follow-up excavation with heavy equipment to search for evidence of buried waste. Veteran's Affairs spokesman says the pits were cleaned out before being covered over.
Jan 6: County issues citations for illegal dumping of abandoned vehicles, equipment and other bulk waste observed on the property within sight of graves. Cemetery is given 2 weeks to comply with clean up orders or face hefty fines.
Jan 16: Officials re-inspect the cemetery and find that abandoned vehicles and bulk waste have been removed while ground cover has been spread to prevent erosion. Follow-up excavation with heavy equipment finds no evidence that illegal waste was left in open pits before they were covered over. The pits contained numerous marker stones that were disposed of after being replaced with updated stones on gravesites. These are considered "clean fill". State and county inspectors declare the cemetery in-compliance with environmental regulations.