- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) | A man stumbling upon a human jaw while out walking his dog was the first sign something was amiss. Then officials uncovered something more: More than 600 sets of remains, long ago buried and forgotten, on the site where luxury condos were supposed to be built.

The remains, found on a site overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque, have left the nearly $60 million condo plan in limbo, and the developer has sued the nuns who sold him the property. No one is exactly sure why - or how - no one knew the pre-Civil War remains were still there.

Perhaps the graves were lost because wooden markers deteriorated, stone tablets were reused or the sites were never marked in the first place. In any event, an excavation by the state archaeologist’s office has put the project on hold for two years with no start date in sight.

“We were told they have been cleaned out, and that’s what we believed,” said developer A.J. Spiegel. “It was a true shock, a moment of, ‘What do we do now?’ ”

Mr. Spiegel and his company, Peosta, Iowa-based River Pointe Development LLC, have filed a lawsuit against the Sinsinawa Dominicans Inc., an order of nuns now based in southwest Wisconsin. Their attorney asserts that the religious order didn’t know any remains were still at the site. The diocese, which owned the land before the nuns, says it sincerely thought they had all been moved long ago.

The lawsuit, filed in Dubuque County District Court in May, claims the nuns did not disclose that bodies were still buried in the old Third Street Cemetery, also called Kelly’s Bluff Cemetery, when he bought the property in 2002 for $1.5 million.

Iowa law requires property owners to pay for excavating a site for human remains, and Mr. Spiegel is seeking compensation for those costs, the relocation of the remains and the lost use of the site. No dollar amount is listed in the lawsuit.

The graveyard was the first Catholic cemetery in Dubuque and possibly the state, with burials from 1839 until it closed in 1856. Ownership was transferred from the Archdiocese of Dubuque to Sinsinawa Dominicans Inc. shortly after World War II.

He said there are no immediate plans to develop the land, where he had hoped to build two 12-story towers.

“It’s very unmarketable because who would want that responsibility?” he asked. “So we will proceed to clean up the entire area for remains.”

Attorney Glenn Johnson, who represents Sinsinawa Dominicans, said the nuns did not know the site still contained human remains. As part of the land’s transfer, he said, the diocese was supposed to move the remains to another cemetery.

“There must have been some remains they could not locate,” Mr. Johnson said.

The remains, mostly fragments, will be reburied in a common burial vault at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

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